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Dave Hickman: For Saban, it’s all about ‘The Process’

ATLANTA — Nick Saban likes to talk about The Process, which anywhere else but Alabama isn’t necessarily capitalized.

That process is pretty basic, of course, and not all that unique. Tons of people talk about the process of doing things in all walks of life, not just building a football team.

For Saban, though, it’s a mantra.

“It’s the journey that’s important. You can’t worry about end results,” Saban said back in 2007 when he became Alabama’s football coach. “It’s about what you control, every minute of every day. You always have to have a winning attitude and discipline, in practices, weight training, conditioning, in the classroom, in everything. It’s a process.”

But here’s the other thing about putting so much emphasis on The Process — It also provides a convenient way for Saban to avoid talking about the specifics of his football team. He hates talking about specifics.

Need to replace a three-year starter at quarterback and don’t especially want to delve into the nuts and bolts of what it is Blake Sims and Jacob Coker have to offer? Speak of it in generalities. Talk about the process.

Wondering how a team so accustomed to winning every game it plays deals with a current two-game losing streak? It’s all in the process.

Granted, in that regard Saban isn’t all that different than any other college football coach. None of them enjoy delving into details. Why say anything that doesn’t need to be said?

Saban, though, seems to take it to another level. And that’s why, as he approaches this opening game of the 2014 season against West Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta, the closest Saban will come to revealing just what he thinks of this version of the Crimson Tide is pretty much what he would say about any other version.

It’s all generalities.

“I think the question you always have when you start the season is, ‘Who are we as a team?’” Saban said earlier this week. “Every team has an opportunity to create an identity — with the energy, the enthusiasm, the sense of purpose that they have and the togetherness that they play with.”

Sounds a lot like The Process, doesn’t it?

Don’t misunderstand, of course. Everything Saban says is true. In fact, it’s fairly inarguable.

But it’s also a really good way of saying something without really saying anything. He has that mastered, perhaps even more so than his peers. For instance, Alabama is ranked No. 2 in the preseason Associated Press poll and a consensus top-five pick in everyone’s rankings.

His reaction to those expectations?

“Whatever you want to say about preseason rankings, ratings, whatever, nobody’s really sold on anybody at this point,” Saban said. “Everybody has a new opportunity and I think everybody is trying to create a winning rhythm and how they can execute on every unit. … That’s certainly something we’ve always tried to do here at Alabama and it’s certainly a challenge for this team.”

True, when pressed for specifics on, say, positions or strengths or the like, Saban will delve just a little bit deeper. But never too deep. The answers always see to come back to the big picture, not all the little ones.

“Mindset, preparation, determination to create an identity,” Saban said. “[Those] are probably the real keys for this team.”

Those and The Process.

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