TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Nick Saban isn’t happy about one major new distraction, and it has nothing to do with Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s hiring at Tennessee.
The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (11-1) opened practice Friday in preparation for another playoff matchup with No. 1 Clemson (12-1) on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl. But the looming December signing period has kept Saban and other coaches on the recruiting trail and left him trying to snatch time on plane rides to watch film of the Tigers.
A coach who’s nothing if not committed to routine hasn’t changed his opinion of players being able to sign with teams for three days starting next Wednesday.
”I didn’t like it when we did it. I don’t like it now,” Saban said after practice. ”I don’t think it’s in the players’ best interest. I don’t see how it benefits anybody. I think it’s really stressful for everyone. We’re all trying to get ready for bowl games and playoff games and we have a signing day right in the middle of when we’re going to be practicing for a playoff game.
”It was very stressful for a lot of coaches to get out and see as many guys as they could in December and accelerate everything.”
Not making the Southeastern Conference championship game did have a couple of potential benefits, allowing injured players more time to heal and coaches more time to work on recruiting. Never one to mince words, Saban was particularly outspoken on the December signing dates.
He said he has plenty of company in the coaching ranks.
”Maybe I shouldn’t be speaking like this. I have not talked to a coach that’s happy with it,” Saban said. ”Now, maybe they wouldn’t say what I just said. Maybe they wouldn’t say that, and they’d probably disagree with it just because I said it. We’re dealing with it. It is what it is and we’re managing it the best we can, and we’re working with every player and trying to let them decide when they want to make their decision and not really pressing them to make a decision…”
He was happier delivering the injury report, saying linebackers Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis are ”full go” after missing most of the season. Middle linebacker Mack Brown (foot) isn’t 100 percent but was able to practice ”a significant amount.” Offensive linemen Ross Pierschbacher and J.C. Hassenauer are back from injuries.
For the third straight year, Alabama enters the playoffs with a coordinator on his way out. Pruitt is set to remain with the Tide through the playoffs after accepting the head coaching job at Tennessee. Pruitt wasn’t at practice Friday while working toward the early signing day with the Volunteers but will return Sunday and miss only two practices, Saban said.
Last season, it was Lane Kiffin (Florida Atlantic) and the year before that Kirby Smart (Georgia) who were leaving for head coaching positions.
Defensive analyst Wes Neighbors is helping fill Pruitt’s role with the inside linebackers.
”We’re all kind of filling in where we can,” Saban said.
Saban said he has added UT-San Antonio defensive coordinator Pete Golding as a defensive assistant starting next season.
TIDE NOTES: Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans and punter JK Scott are making their fourth appearance in the playoffs. Evans has 18 tackles in five CFP games with 2.5 sacks. Scott has averaged 47 yards on 38 punts in the playoffs, including a career-long 73-yarder. … The Tide will have 25 graduates on the roster for the Sugar Bowl, with 16 current and three former Alabama players set to graduate Saturday. That group of former players includes former All-American and Butkus Award winner Rolando McClain. Evans is among Saturday’s graduates while kicker Andy Pappanastos is earning his master’s degree.
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