My question went roughly like this: "Coach, you've spoken often about the need to change this sense of high expectations among Alabama fans, and maybe a sense of entitlement that future championships will come based on past greatness. How successful do you feel you've been in breaking through?"
Over the course of his answer, Saban covered several related topics, including the need to strive, as do NBA star Lebron James and golfer Tiger Woods, for ever-greater levels of achievement, before touching on a sore sport for Bama fans -- the Tide's embarrassing loss to Utah in the Sugar Bowl.
"There's very little interest from our fans, our players or anybody else to play in the Sugar Bowl, which to me is a tremendous opportunity," Saban said. "I tried to tell everyone, you're only going to remember one thing about this game and that's the outcome. So there's no interest, there's no passion and everybody is embarrassed because of how we played. Well, it's because you didn't have any passion for it, you didn't have any interest in it, you didn't have any enthusiasm to do it, and that's across the board. And that's not right. We go to a BCS bowl game, everybody ought to be positive and enthusiastic about what we're doing."
By the way, Saban's response can be found in its entirety in Cecil Hurt's excellent Tuscaloosa News column on Monday.
Apparently, many Tide fans have taken umbrage at being blamed, even partially, for the quality of the Tide's performance in only it's second-ever BCS bowl (the first being another loss, a heartbreaker to Michigan in the Orange Bowl following the 1999 season, the Tide's best under Mike DuBose). However, as Ian Rapoport, the Birmingham News Tide beat writer, pointed out in his blog on Monday, Saban didn't blame just the fans, he blamed everybody connected with the program.
And I think that some of the Tide's fans should accept their share of the blame, given their lack of enthusiasm in the run-up to the game with Utah. It was Alabama's chance to have only it's second 13-win season. It was a chance to finally win a BCS bowl. It was a chance win a Sugar Bowl, a game the Tide used to own, a game that arguably means as much in the school's football tradition as the Rose Bowl. And still, a lot of the fans came in flat. You figure it had to have an impact on the players.
"Our fans have been great, but I think that comes from an expectation," Saban said. "But there should be an appreciation for what is accomplished and the work that the players do, and we should be supporting the program."
What that means to me is that when you've been wandering in the wilderness like the Bama program had been for several years prior to the coming of Saint Nick, you should happy and excited to be back in the Sugar Bowl under almost any circumstances, even if you are coming off a dissapointing loss that prevented you from playing in the BCS championship.
For me, the heart of Saban's response is the following: "Thatís a lesson we can learn from," he said, referring to the Sugar Bowl. "When you have adversity, you can quit, you can blame somebody else or you can learn from it. We choose to learn from those things, our players and everyone in the organization and our fans are a part of that."
"Our fans are a part of that." Alabama fans love to feel that they have a deep connection to the program. Well, Saban seems to be saying that they do indeed have a deep connection to the program, but that this comes with a certain responsibility. As Hooper told me this morning, Saban seems to be coaching the fans as well as the team.
I know at least one thing for sure -- Saban's a fascinating guy to watch.
By the way, the fruits of our labor last Saturday can be found here, the Alabama Spring Football Preview.