There isn’t much an average fan can do to help his or her team be successful. That’s certainly true when it comes to big-time college football.
As much as we believe coaches should listen to us when we tell them to throw more to the tight end or give the backup quarterback a shot, it’s never going to happen.
But there is an area where fans can help their team — yet most choose to do just the opposite.
As much as Nick Saban should be credited for his coaching ability and player development and game planning and everything else that goes into “The Process,” it’s worth remembering that Alabama was 7-6 in Saban’s first season. That 2007 campaign included four straight losses against LSU, Mississippi State, Louisiana-Monroe and Auburn. In the final three games of that stretch, the Tide failed to score more than 14 points in any game.
Does anyone doubt Saban was already a great coach 11 years ago? Of course not. But the difference between Alabama then and Alabama now is the players have gotten better. Much better.
It’s not the Xs and Os, it’s the Jimmys and Joes. That’s a cliche because it’s true.
While fans can have very little impact on how those players play on Saturday, they can have a major say in where those players choose to go to college.
In the last week we’ve seen people associated with both Auburn and Alabama work against the interest of their teams.
At Auburn, frustrations are at an all-time high. One week into October all of the Tigers’ major goals are up in smoke. There is virtually no chance the Tigers can bounce back from division losses to LSU and Mississippi to still reach the SEC Championship Game or qualify for the national championship playoff. Those were the goals entering this season for a team that ranked in the top 10 in the preseason. Even the extremely unlikely scenario of a win over Georgia in Athens and Alabama in Tuscaloosa would almost certainly not produce a division championship.
So it’s understandable that Tiger fans are extremely disappointed in their team and particularly their offense.
The good news is that help is on the way in the form of top-level recruits Bo Nix and George Pickens, among others. Both players are committed to Auburn and expected to be immediate impact players next season. But neither player has signed, meaning they aren’t obligated to go to Auburn.
What are those in-state players hearing about the program they’re committed to join? Well, there is a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising enough money to buy out Gus Malzahn’s contract.
Of course, it’s not going to work. But it is accomplishing the goal of sending a strong message that Auburn’s program is a mess and anyone would be crazy to want to be a part of it.
The same goes for message board posts and talk radio callers. Recruits hear these things and there’s no way it doesn’t affect them.
If Auburn loses one Jimmy or Joe as a result of fans painting a picture of a program in disarray and on the decline, then those fans really have figured out a way to have an impact on their program.
Alabama is rolling along so strongly that it seems nothing could be wrong. But Saban has made a point of pointing out how Alabama’s student section has been a disappointment. He’s right that the empty seats in the student section for the Louisiana game were noticeable.
The problem probably has more to do with the way tickets are distributed than any apathy about Tide football. Saban said the school was addressing that problem, which is good.
But he went a step further in saying that in the past fans would cheer and be excited when the starting lineups were announced during the pregame. Now, he says, there’s barely any reaction at all.
Saban’s comments, as much as the lack of attendance, hurt Alabama.
The only successful recruiting pitch another program could make against Alabama would be “if you go to Alabama you might win a national championship but it won’t be that exciting along the way. Come to our school — where we are on the rise — and you’ll experience the kind of excitement Saban longs for when Alabama was on the rise.”
I don’t know how many recruits that would work for, but there is no need for Saban to play into the narrative that winning isn’t that much fun at Alabama anymore.
The easy answer is for Auburn fans to be supportive of Malzahn and this Auburn team until the end of the season and for Alabama fans to turn out to cheer for the best college football dynasty in college football history.
Of course, fans aren’t required to do that. If they wish, it’s their right to keep harming the program they say they love.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.
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