Marq Burnett commentary: Going behind the scenes of Alabama's A-Day

April 20, 2014 

Alabama Spring Game Football

Alabama coach Nick Saban reacts to a breakdown with defensive players Alabama defensive back Jabriel Washington (23) and linebacker Dillon Lee (25) during Alabama's A-Day NCAA college football spring game Saturday, April 19, 2014, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When covering Alabama football, there's always a curtain, behind which you aren't allowed to look.

Nick Saban and his staff run an air-tight program, and things rarely get out without them being in control. As a reporter, it makes the job more difficult, but the good ones find a way to work through the lack of access.

That all changed a little during Saturday's A-Day game, as I was able to go behind the curtain as a media coach.

For one day, I saw Saban, coaches and players in their element.

I coached the Crimson team, which featured the first-team offense and the second-team defense. Going into the game, I was overly confident as my team had weapons like T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Amari Cooper. Defensively, I knew I could count on talented players like Jonathan Allen, Dillon Lee and freshman Tony Brown.

While the defense did its best to keep the game close, the offense never found a rhythm and struggled to put drives together. A lot of that can be attributed to the fact that the offense was so vanilla. Either way, my team lost to the White team, 17-13, earning me a beans and weenies dinner.

Outside of the actual game, the experience of being a "coach" for a day is unmatched. You're allowed in the locker room, and coaches, players, trainers and others treat you like you're a member of the team.

During the pregame team meeting in the Crimson locker room, linebackers coach Kevin Steele gave a speech that had me ready to run through a wall. It's easy to see why the players blindly trust the coaching staff, because it's obvious they want what's best for the players.

With my adrenaline pumping from Steele's speech, it was time to run out of the tunnel. As I jogged across the freshly manicured "grass," the 73,506 fans all screamed at the top of their lungs. And while those cheers were for the players and actual coaches, I couldn't help but think one person in the crowd was rooting me on.

Roaming the sideline, you see freshmen like Brown, a cornerback, left tackle Cam Robinson and safety Laurence "Hootie" Jones. These "kids" are built like NFL players, and they quickly make you realize just how out of shape you are.

But the best part was having new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin as the Crimson team's head coach. Just being able to watch the interactions between Saban and Kiffin was worth the price of admission.

It takes a special type of human to be Saban's offensive coordinator. He's a very demanding boss, but Kiffin held his own and never appeared to let Saban get to him.

But my biggest takeaway from the day is the fact that the coaches are on their feet for three to four hours straight. I don't know how they do it. Midway through the second quarter, I was looking for a bench to park it on.

Ultimately, my experience as a coach was one I'll never forget. It's nice to be able to pull back the curtain and see how the players and coaches really act when you're not shoving a camera or a microphone in their faces.

Still, being a coach for a day won't change how I do my job. I'll continue to cover the team to the best of my ability. I'll keep asking Saban the "tough" questions, and he'll continue to give me his icy glare, and all will be right with the world.

-- Marq Burnett is a sport writer for the Anniston Star.

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