Call it clutter.
News conferences. Agents. Eating the wrong things. Clutter is anything that makes championship football more complicated than it already is.
Welcome to Nick Saban’s world.
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He looks around, with a steely glare, and sees the clutter. And Saturday night, the Alabama football coach was in the capital of clutter— Disneyland. Walt Disney invented it, then farmed it out to Orlando and the world.
But this is anything but a Mickey Mouse trip for Saban and his unbeaten football team.
He’s trying to lead Alabama to its 13th national championship. All that stands in the way of the top-ranked Crimson Tide is No. 2 Texas.
The answer comes Thursday night in the Rose Bowl.
For now, it is all about questions and clutter.
What Saban is trying to do is eliminate the clutter and bring focus.
That is easier said than done this week.
It’s a bowl trip that is really a business trip.
“It’s all a matter of focusing on the right things,” Saban said during a news conference at the ESPN Zone at Downtown Disney.
And that comes down to decisions. Last year, one of the key players on Alabama’s team, left tackle Andre Smith made a bad decision and linked up with a sports agent before the Sugar Bowl. Smith stayed home when Alabama traveled to New Orleans. The Crimson Tide, which struggled with focus during the week, was soundly defeated by Utah.
That’s what happens when you lose focus or, heaven forbid, cast the focus in the wrong direction.
Saban knows that well.
After Alabama won the Southeastern Conference championship against Florida, Saban met with his team and drew a long line on the white board.
He was illustrating a starting point and a finish line.
“I told them they had 32 days and how they managed those 32 days will determine how well you play,” Saban said.
He has their attention.
And he has a simple message for his team:
“You have got to be focused on the right things,” he said.
Success breeds clutter. And that clutter comes with accolades and hardware.
The fact that Alabama put six players on the Associated Press All-America team is clutter. Running back Mark Ingram’s Heisman Trophy is clutter.
“Even the guys getting the national awards,” Saban said. “Is that the finish line or the starting point of what they could do in the future?”
All-America offensive guard Mike Johnson certainly seemed to understand the definition of focus.
“I’m excited to get back to work tomorrow and then go over to Disneyland,” he said when Alabama arrived in Southern California on New Year’s Day. “I’ve never been to Disneyland, and I’m looking forward to having a little fun.”
Then he got focused.
“But this is a business trip, and everything we do is pointed toward playing our best possible game against an outstanding Texas team on January 7 at the Rose Bowl,” Johnson said.
That’s what this is all about for Alabama. The office will be the Rose Bowl.
Not a bad office, but this is about writing their names in Crimson lore.
To do that, it will take focus — and as little clutter as possible.
“I know everybody thinks I’m crazy,” Saban said. “But that’s just the way it is.”
Chuck Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org