With only 7 minutes of game time separating the Crimson Tide from a second consecutive national championship, A.J. McCarron and Barrett Jones were pissed.
Alabama was facing 2nd-and-6 from its own 29-yard line and protecting a 28-point lead.
With the play clock running down to about 3 seconds, Jones mistakenly paused to identify a Notre Dame shift. Behind him, McCarron lost his mind. He frantically signaled for a timeout — a request that went unanswered as the referees flagged Alabama for delay of game.
McCarron then stomped over to Jones and shouted at him. Jones promptly shoved McCarron aside.
On the sideline, coach Nick Saban was incensed. He cast his headset aside and turned red from the strain of screaming at a group of officials who likely didn’t understand why a man moments from winning his third national title in four years was so upset. But the two facts aren’t unrelated.
Alabama is on another level. Programs like Florida strive to emulate Saban’s model, but each still has a long way to go. By a combination of attitude, talent and approach, the Crimson Tide is miles ahead of its nearest competition. The Gators are on the way, but a few critical faults are holding them back.
Alabama’s championship is the seventh in a row for the Southeastern Conference, but this isn’t an SEC thing. The SEC doesn’t have The Process, a Saban staple explored by Sports Illustrated as part of its 2012 college football preview edition.
At its core, The Process is pretty simple. Every person in the Alabama organization has a strictly regimented and clearly defined schedule. Each of them is always focused solely on their next task — the thing they can control. In general, controlling wins, losses and championships is impossible. Instead, the focus is working hard in everything you do and taking life one day at a time. The Process is a focus on just that, the process of doing what it takes to be successful, not the results.
Now that the game is over, Saban plans to take 24 hours off before picking up right where he left off in recruiting, stringently following the 18-month calendar that details everything everyone in the organization needs to accomplish. The Process is a focus, a professional attitude and a lifestyle that comes down to one simple message: “Do Your Job.” Saban adopted the motto from Bill Belichick and constantly preaches it to Alabama’s players. In the south end zone meeting room in The Swamp, Florida coach Will Muschamp posted a sign bearing the same message.
After working with Saban for five years at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins, Muschamp brought The Process to Florida. The evidence is everywhere. Like Saban, Muschamp run an aggressive 3-4. Both coaches have a blueprint for what players at every position should look like, down to size, character and the other “critical factors.”
But a few steps remain.
Florida was trailing Louisville 30-10 with about 8:45 to go in the fourth quarter of the Sugar Bowl. On 2nd-and-5 from UF’s 12-yard line, Dominique Easley tackled Jeremy Wright for a loss of 1 yard. After the stop, Easley took the opportunity to yap into Wright’s ear.
Two Louisville possessions earlier, with UF still down 30-10, Michael Taylor tackled Wright for a gain of 1 on 2nd-and-6 from the Florida 20-yard line. After the stop, Taylor leaped to his feet to pump up the crowd as Easley pumped his fist.
Neither play forced a punt, and both came more than 50 yards and eight plays into a Louisville drive. UF had nothing to celebrate.
After Alabama’s 42-14 dismantling of Notre Dame, linebacker Nico Johnson told ESPN that he was disappointed the Crimson Tide allowed a touchdown.
After UF’s loss in the Sugar Bowl, Sharrif Floyd was asked what he’ll remember most about his last collegiate game.
“I blocked another field goal,” Floyd said, laughing as he recalled the play that gave him an excuse to charge off the field triumphantly with his chest puffed out even as UF’s deficit remained a still-hopeless 20 points.
Contrast that approach with Alabama’s Jones and McCarron, who, playing with a comfortable lead in a much bigger game, needed to iron out the issue that led to a delay of game. Never mind that the Tide could have taken a delay of game every snap the rest of the way and still won comfortably, or that Jones and McCarron will never again play together. They needed to get it right, to prepare for the next task rather than dwell on what they’d accomplished. That’s the difference between Alabama and everyone else.
While Alabama strives for perfection, Florida will celebrate being on the receiving end of the biggest upset in BCS bowl history.
Maybe changing a team’s attitude takes time. Or maybe Muschamp isn’t even trying — no evidence says a team can’t win a title with an attitude, and Muschamp wouldn’t be wrong to put his own emotional, trash-talking stamp on UF.
But as Alabama continues to rack up titles and build a dynasty, maybe it’s fair to wonder if anything other than The Process is the wrong way to go.
Contact Greg Luca at firstname.lastname@example.org.