When Nick Saban says that his veteran offensive line coach at Alabama, Joe Pendry, is an old-fashioned coach, you can bet that Saban means it with the utmost respect.
It’s exactly the way Saban hopes people view him -- as a teacher.
And after all these years, the 63-year-old Pendry is still one of the best teachers in the business, maybe THE best teacher, which is why the offensive line has been one of the cornerstones of Alabama’s success under Saban.
“He doesn’t just teach the players what to do,” Saban said. “He teaches them how to do it, the technique to use, what’s going to be most effective for them in terms of what they do and why it’s important to do it that way.”
Players come, and players go. But what hasn’t changed at the Capstone since Saban lured his old West Virginia pal back into college coaching is the way Alabama has gotten it done up front offensively.
“There’s definitely a sense of pride to uphold that standard around here,” Alabama sophomore guard Barrett Jones said. “It’s all about doing your job and doing your job on every play. There is no other way with Coach Pendry.”
The Pendry way has certainly paid dividends for the Crimson Tide, who once again have that ability to line up and mash you, especially with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson taking turns running through tacklers.
But this offensive line is also different from the one a year ago, not to mention the one in 2008.
Alabama had a pair of first-team All-Americans on that 2008 offensive line -- center Antoine Caldwell and tackle Andre Smith. It had another first-team All-American a year ago in guard Mike Johnson.
There’s no question that Pendry has had some marquee talent to work with, but he’s also managed to reload no matter how much talent he loses.
Caldwell, now the starting right guard for the Houston Texans, said Pendry’s hands-on approach is what sets him apart.
“He’s not one of those guys who yells and cusses and tells you what to do,” Caldwell said. “He gets in there and shows you what to do and shows you where to put your hands. He’s been doing it for so long that he automatically has your attention and your respect, but he probably teaches the game better than anybody I’ve ever been around.”
A 19-year veteran of the NFL coaching ranks, Pendry quit aspiring to climb that coaching ladder long ago. He was an offensive coordinator at several stops along the way in the NFL, but was out of coaching when Saban came calling in 2007.
“Just getting back into the college game and seeing these kids develop and grow every day has been the best part of the whole thing,” Pendry said this past January while Alabama was preparing for the BCS National Championship Game. “I wouldn’t trade this time for anything.”
The feeling is mutual.
Jones said it’s been an “awesome experience” getting to play for Pendry and soak up his knowledge.
“We know he could be doing so many other things at this point in his life, but he’s choosing to spend his time with us and to teach us,” Jones said. “He has a true love for the game, and we all have such a close bond, all the offensive linemen. You see that every Saturday on the field.”
It has certainly showed up in the Alabama running game. The Crimson Tide are second in the SEC in rushing offense. Their 244.8 yards per game trails only Auburn, but they lead the league with their 6.5-yards-per-carry average.
This is a more diverse offense than either of the past two the Crimson Tide have put on the field, and they can attack you a number of different ways.
The one constant, though, remains their ability to impose their will up front when the game is hanging in the balance in the second half.
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino saw it up close last week in the Hogs’ 24-20 loss to the Tide, who scored the last 17 points of the game and played keep-away for much of the second half by running the football.
“They’re very committed to it, too,” Petrino said. “That’s the thing they do a great job of. They’re very well-coached in the offensive front and do a nice job of doing what they want to do schematically, and then they make a commitment to it and keep pounding you and pounding you until those two big, strong, physical, fast backs can break some big plays.”