Never mind his fan base. The wildly successful Alabama coach acknowledges that even his wife and kids are mad at him after the Crimson Tide’s loss at home to Texas A&M on Saturday.
No less than Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has publicly questioned the play calling. ESPN studio face Lou Holtz has suggested that maybe Saban should retire because he’s reached that no-fun return, where losses are more devastating than the wins are exhilarating.
The loss left fans and college football pundits recalculating, trying to find the now-once-defeated Tide’s path back into the national championship picture. Still others question why he went away from the running game against A&M, especially in that final goal-to-goal series with a chance to win.
After yet another November loss, it’s also time to question the flawlessness of Saban’s “process.”
There’s no questioning the overall success of the Saban way. As a college head coach, he has a 150-55-1 career record with three national championships, two at Alabama.
Then again, he’s at Alabama, where he rekindled yearly expectations of national titles after the Tide’s dark decade of NCAA sanctions and coaching turmoil. National titles, as currently decided, require perfection or close to it. One loss can be devastating, especially a late-season loss like that 29-24 loss to A&M on Saturday.
The coach who preaches the ultimate in weekly focus, taking every opportunity to improve?
That process, which would seem to project his teams’ best performances for late in the season?
He’s 14-8 in November at Alabama. Factor in an SEC Championship loss to Florida and Sugar Bowl loss to Utah at the end of the 2008 season, and 10 of his 13 losses at Alabama have come from November on.
Of his 55 career losses at Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and Alabama, nearly half (26) came from November on. That includes 19 November games and seven postseason games.
Four of Saban’s November losses at Alabama came in 2007. It was his throw-away first season of bringing Mike Shula holdovers around to the process, and suspensions related to the textbook investigation complicated things.
Still, four of Saban’s November losses at Alabama have come in the past three years.
Of those later four — to LSU and Auburn in 2010, to LSU in 2011 and to Texas A&M on Saturday — three came in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The loss at LSU in 2010, Alabama’s second loss that season, ended the Tide’s national title hopes. Alabama also blew a 24-0 lead and chance to ruin in-state rival Auburn’s national title hopes at home.
The home loss to LSU in 2011 would have cost Alabama a chance at a national championship had Oklahoma State not suffered an unthinkable upset at Iowa State.
The home loss to Texas A&M will likely cost Alabama that chance this year, unless Alabama wins out and only one team among BCS No. 2 Kansas State, No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Notre Dame reaches Selection Sunday unbeaten.
In fairness, Saban has gone unbeaten from November on four times — once at Michigan State (1999), twice at LSU (2001 and 2003) and once at Alabama (2009). His 2008 Alabama team was 4-0 in November before losing in the SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl, and his 2004 LSU team was 3-0 in November before losing to Iowa in the Capital One Bowl.
Also, many of Saban’s November-on losses can at least partly be blamed on competition. At Michigan State in the mid-to-late 1990s, he lost November games to Penn State three times, Purdue twice, Michigan and Ohio State, plus bowl games against LSU, Stanford and Washington.
At LSU from 2000-2004, he lost November games to Arkansas twice and Alabama (31-0 in 2002), plus bowl games against Texas and Iowa.
His November-on losses at Alabama include three times to LSU, twice to Auburn and once against Florida. Three of those teams went on to win national titles.
Still, there’s no excusing Alabama losing to Louisiana-Monroe in any year, and a sub-par Iron Bowl performance nearly derailed Alabama’s 2009 national championship team.
Another sub-par showing nearly cost Alabama another November loss this year. Much like that 2009 Iron Bowl, the Tide needed a dramatic late drive to survive at LSU.
This in a game that saw LSU outgain Alabama by 104 yards.
Texas A&M, an SEC newcomer with a first-year head coach, never trailed in Bryant-Denny Stadium, so make it two sub-par November performances in a row for a team that held the No. 1 ranking from Week 2 on.
It’s closer to a trend than an anomaly through Saban’s career, and players that never miss a practice rep’s opportunity to improve should play their best at season’s end. Then again, maybe that’s a lot to expect from 18-to-22-year-olds, especially when they play in college football’s most unforgiving conference.
Maybe it’s a good thing to sprinkle some fun factor in with all of that focus factor.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.