His entrance to the South team’s opening practice for the Senior Bowl on Monday was rather muted.
Nick Saban’s was anything but.
Flanked by a police car, the Alabama coach’s SUV drove straight on to the track at Fairhope Municipal Stadium. There was no mistaking who was in the passenger seat when the few hundred fans started cheering on the gloomy, windy afternoon.
Saban hardly traveled alone.
A large contingency from Tuscaloosa was in the Mobile area in advance of Saturday afternoon’s game involving three now-former Crimson Tide standouts, Greg McElroy, Preston Dial and James Carpenter.
Saban’s experience as an NFL assistant and head coach helps when dishing out advice to the former players.
“I think the thing you have to do is not worry about impressing everybody,” Saban said. “Just be who you are and hopefully if you created the right habits of being as good as you can be in everything that you do, which is what we try to promote in our program. A guy goes out and does that and practices that way and plays that way, he’s going to impress people.”
Dial, a tight end on the South team, a Mobile native and fan favorite, said Saban has been a great resource when preparing for all that comes with Senior Bowl week.
“He said go about it like it’s a business trip just like every week when we leave on Friday,” Dial said. “We’re not here to have fun, so that’s how I’m going about it. I’m worried about my sleep, my eating, staying hydrated and learning this offense. That’s what’s most important to me right now. The rest, as far as the interviews go, that’ll take care of itself.”
The advice Saban was able to pass on also has roots in his experience as an assistant coach at the Senior Bowl in the early 1990s as a member of Bill Belichick’s Cleveland Browns staff.
“As a coach in the game, you can really create an advantage for yourself by working with these guys for the week,” Saban said. “But the whole week is here the whole time. Guys really need to understand that.”
That includes the countless interviews players will do in every nook and cranny of the official team hotel in downtown Mobile.
“Some guys don’t think that’s important and it’s amazing to me that they don’t think it’s important and they’re arrogant enough to think that their ability alone is going help them be successful,” Saban said. “It takes a lot more than that in the National Football League.”
Along with Saban, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt worked the crowd full of scouts and NFL executives that lined the sideline at the afternoon practice. Recently retired offensive line coach and ex-NFL assistant Joe Pendry also ran into connections made over several decades of coaching.
As practice began, Julio Jones from nearby Foley walked onto the field along with B.J. Scott who transferred from Alabama to South Alabama after the fall semester. Saban later joined the group taking in the practice from the sidelines.
Jones, projected to be among the top half of the first round in the April draft, declined to requests to speak with reporters.
While there were several Alabama representatives in town Monday, none were spotted from Auburn.
Tiger defensive back Zac Etheridge said he completely understands if Gene Chizik didn’t have the time to travel to Mobile since the national title run stretched well into fertile recruiting time.
“They have a job to continue to do,” he said. “I think they started back up today. They’ve got to be with the guys.”
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star.