Nick Saban was more than halfway through last Thursday’s radio show when Harrison from Florence, Alabama called with a question.
He wanted to know how much game film and preparation goes into “feeling comfortable” with what any given opponent would do on a weekly basis.
“Whew, boy,” Saban began in what was a four-minute stream-of-consciousness explanation of the Alabama coaching plan from the moment they step into the complex on Sunday afternoon.
After going to church in the morning, Saban is in the office by noon to look at the previous day’s game film — footage he said has to be graded before then. They’ll discuss offense, defense and special teams before Saban shifts the film study to the next opponent at 3 p.m.
“And I will watch the other team for six hours,” Saban said, “probably until 8:30, 9:00 at night.
Next, he’ll meet with the defense to decide what they’ll do in practice Monday when they try to install the basic plan for the coming Saturday.
That doesn’t leave much time for anything that happens outside the walls of the Crimson Tide football fortress. That includes the performances of his former players on any given NFL Sunday, so his longtime administrative assistant Linda Leoni has a specific duty before Saban eats lunch on Mondays.
“Linda always has a ‘here’s how everybody did list’” Saban said Monday at the Birmingham Monday Morning Quarterback Club meeting. “So she tells me this guy made this many tackles and got two sacks and this guy caught this many passes and this guy scored this many touchdowns and Derrick Henry had this many yards…”
By Monday morning, he starts by meeting with the defense, then special teams and begins watching offensive game film. Saban’s meeting with the offense comes Tuesday morning after watching “probably two to three hours” of the opposing defense.
“And then we watch everything situationally,” Saban said. “So each day, like Monday is basically special teams, on Tuesday, we do first-and-10, second-and-long, goal line and short-yardage. So I’m going to look at all second-and-long plays, all short yardage and what they do in those and we’re going to install a plan on both sides of the ball and what we’re going to do in those days.”
Along with that day’s practice film, Saban said Tuesday nights include breaking down every third-down play the opponent has run.
“If they had 32 third downs in the last four games or whatever, we look at every one of them,” Saban said. “We have all their passes drawn up, what’s the best coverage to play? How do we match the patterns? How do we adjust to the formations?”
Red zone defense is also on tap.
And on Thursday, it’s two-minute drills and two-point conversions. That’s on top of watching two-and-a-half to three hours of practice film immediately after coming off the field each day.
Among the biggest challenges is fitting all of this into the 20-hour rule mandated by the NCAA. Players can’t exceed 20 hours in practice, meetings or competition any week school is in session so they have to be efficient in cutting up specific film clips to show at every meeting.
And that’s where Alabama’s army of back-office analysts, graduate assistants and other staffers come into play. It’s their job to have the film cut up, logged, organized and ready to present to assistant coaches and Saban so they can dedicate all of their time to instruction.
“I can’t tell you how many hours we spend in terms of preparation,” Saban said. “And sometimes it’s more difficult based on who you’re playing and what they do.
“But I have a book and when I look at the book, it’s coordinated with the film. So, here’s the formation. Here’s the play they run. Here’s the defense they run. Here’s how they adjust to coverage. I have a book so when I’m watching film, I’m looking at a picture and the film at the same time so I can make notes as I got through.”
That book and the organization of the film is part of the meticulous behind-the-scenes work done by that back-office crew.
By Friday, they’re going through a walk-through to be sure everything taught was absorbed and translated to the three-dimensional world. They walk through it in individual positional groups and then as a full team.
“So,” Saban said four minutes after beginning his rundown, “that’s how we teach.”
See Saban’s full four-minute answer on game prep here.
Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.