HOOVER, Ala. — "Hopefully we won't waste a failure."
Three of Alabama's last six football seasons have ended with national championship celebrations. The other three have ended in defeat, including last season when the Crimson Tide carried a 14-0 record into the national title game before coming up short 35-31 against Clemson.
The last-game losses seem to both haunt and motivate Alabama 11th-year coach Nick Saban, who expressed not wanting to "waste a failure" on multiple occasions Wednesday during day three of the Southeastern Conference's annual media days event.
Clemson's triumph, which was clinched on Deshaun Watson's 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second remaining, was the most devastating defeat Alabama has suffered since the 2013 loss to Auburn on the infamous "Kick Six" play. Perhaps it was even more devastating given the stage, and Saban is determined to benefit from the latest stinging loss from a self-assessment standpoint.
"We really try to do it the same way whether you win or lose," Saban said, "but I think when you lose, the mindset is much more of, 'I'm willing to change. I want to learn. I don't want to waste a failure. What could we have done better?'
"Everybody is hurt by the fact that we lost, especially the way we lost that particular game on the last play, but it wasn't the last play. It's what led up to the last play, and I think our players realize that."
Alabama opened last year with a resounding 52-6 shredding of Southern California and won 11 of its 12 regular-season games by double digits. The Crimson Tide demolished Florida 54-16 in the SEC championship contest but struggled offensively in a 24-7 dumping of Washington in the Peach Bowl national semifinal.
Saban parted ways with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin between the Peach Bowl, when freshman quarterback and SEC offensive player of the year Jalen Hurts had his worst outing, and the national title game. Steve Sarkisian called the plays against Clemson, but he left in early February to become the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons.
Brian Daboll, who spent last season as tight ends coach of the New England Patriots, is now running the show for an offense that returns a starting quarterback for the first time since AJ McCarron in 2013. Top tailbacks Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough will be back with Hurts, as will receiver Calvin Ridley and three starting linemen — center Bradley Bozeman, guard Ross Pierschbacher and tackle Jonah Williams.
"It's going to be a challenge for us offensively to be able to have the kind of team that we need to have to help our defense, especially early on," Saban said.
Defensively, Alabama returns Da'Ron Payne up front, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans at inside linebacker, and a loaded secondary with corners Anthony Averett and Tony Brown and safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison.
The expectations are again national championship or bust for the Crimson Tide, who are still having to relive the heartbreak from January.
"We know what we did wrong in that game and that the leadership could have been better," Ridley said. "We've been really motivated by that loss. It's not just because Clemson beat us, but it's just really motivated us to play football again and show the world that Alabama is a really good football team."
Said Bozeman: "It's been a grinder. We're just trying to get back to being Bama again. We're pushing it every day and seeing what kind of limits we can hit. There is no time to rest."
There is no bigger opener in college football this season than Alabama's test against Florida State inside Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 2. Saban has routinely praised the Seminoles this offseason, and they should provide a similar challenge to what the Tide experienced their last time out.
"It takes a tremendous amount of accountability to be able to execute and sustain the execution for 60 minutes in the game," Saban said. "We played against a really, really good team, which I think is what you expect when you get in the playoffs, and we weren't able to finish the game like we needed to.
"I think there are a lot of lessons to learn, and hopefully we won't waste a failure."
Saban said that Hamilton, who tore his ACL in the SEC championship game, will have no restrictions for the start of preseason camp. Fitzpatrick, a New Jersey resident, on the differences in the South: "Definitely the pace of everything. Everything is a lot more relaxed and slow down here. In New Jersey, everybody is hustling and bustling all over the place. My friends give me a hard time when I'm home, because I say 'Y'all' now."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.