Alabama fans will always look back at the 2013 season and think about what might have been.
The two-time defending national champions had the opportunity to three-peat.
That sentence says a lot. Let that sink in for a moment. Most schools never win a championship (or go 50 years between wins) and schools rarely repeat. The Tide had the chance to do something that had not been done since the 1930s. On top of that, this was a team, talent-wise, that had a legitimate chance to go all the way. The team was loaded at quarterback, running back and receiver and we all assumed that Nick Saban could patch together enough defense, at the right times, to get the job done.
But it didn’t happen. And not only did it not happen, but the team flamed out in a pretty spectacular way: a last second loss to Auburn and an egg laying ceremony against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
One could look at the season and say, “Oh well, three-peating is tough and it wasn’t meant to be,” and would be right.
One could also say that given our problems with the offensive line, defensive backfield and lack of pass rush that we were lucky to be 11-0. That could also be very true.
But I don’t think those things tell the whole story. And as we listen to interviews with returning players, I think we begin to see things a little more clearly:
[Christion] Jones can pinpoint when things started to go south in the Tide’s bid for a third straight title.
“Last year the leadership was good but toward the end it kind of got divided and only a few people were being heard,” Jones said. “And the people that needed to speak and be heard weren’t speaking, so everyone kind of separated themselves and pointed the finger at the younger group.
“But that’s something that you can’t do with the team, because the younger group, you need them just as much as the older guys, because at any point they can be put in. They need to know their things just as much as the older guys.”
But it all circles back to leadership. After the Sugar Bowl, McCarron said fellow captains C.J. Mosley and Kevin Norwood and himself were “probably the best examples of buying in to the system.” Jones pointed to another Alabama team when mentioning strong leadership qualities.
“When coach Saban is leading the team more than the leadership on the team, that’s when it’s a problem,” Jones said. “That means no one is speaking up, no one is saying anything. He’s the only one doing the coaching. When I came in in 2011, those older guys and those All-American guys on that team were the leaders on the team. They were the coaches on the team. That’s what we’ve got to become as a unit and as a leader on the team.”
Alabama hit the reset button, all three Tide players said in Hoover last week.
“It was a lot of negativity and individual playing last year,” Jones said. “All those little things, which people can probably say it’s not a problem, but it is. So you’re not playing for your team any more, you’re kind of looking at everything for yourself. So now we’re trying to redefine everything as this is a team unit, no matter what happens, no matter who’s playing, we’re playing all in for the team to accomplish one goal.”
I interpret these words to mean that Jones thinks the team was poorly led in 2013. It sounds like there were some players calling themselves out as leaders, but those around them didn’t want to be led by those people. This poor leadership led to a divided team by the end of the season.
I don’t usually go negative on specific players on this blog, and I’ll try not to do that now, but I don’t think it’s too hard to figure out who plays a lead role in this poor leadership.
In reality, the three-peat process probably made a lot of this worse than it normally would have been. When you win two titles in a row and mix a bunch of new players in along the way, it can breed an environment that makes winning, or sustaining a high level of success, very challenging. It’s easy to see how older players (the ones a part of championship teams) and younger players (the ones not yet) could be divided.
When all is said and done, the way 2013 went could actually be a boost for the 2014 team. It is a time to reset and re-establish parts of the culture. Hopefully, new leaders will step up and help to get this done.