TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Let sleeping dogs lie and see what lessons are learned from their rest. There are none to be had. Sitting on a problem does nothing to solve it and even less to prevent it from happening again.
Nick Saban could have put a tumultuous offseason behind him and begun the first day of spring practice with a clean slate on Saturday. Few would have blamed him. It was a beautiful day on the University of Alabama campus, one of the warmest since the fall. It was a day to take a break from it all, to sit outside and feel the sun and forget, rather than retreat indoors and remember the work that still needed to be done.
But there would be no use in that. Saban doesn't need a tan and he doesn't need to allow a teaching opportunity to pass him by. There would be nothing gained from leaving the arrests and other misbehavior of the offseason in the past, so he met the issue head on, pointing out that, "We didn't respond as well as we'd like."
The absence of Brent Calloway, Tyler Hayes, D.J. Pettway and Eddie Williams would not go unnoticed during the first organized workout of the spring. All four players were suspended and later thrown off the team for their arrests this offseason, and as it turns out, they weren't the only ones running afoul of expectations. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Danny Woodson Jr. was suspended as well and is no longer listed on the school's online roster.
Saban described a feeling of privilege that permeated the football program following the national championship game. Players skipped class and had other "issues" he would not go into great detail with other than to call them "little loose-ended things." For the first time in five-and-a-half years, he and the staff had to deal with serious off-field problems, he noted.
It was a grave admission from a head coach balancing a retooled roster and a rebuilt coaching staff. Holding together a program year after year can prove difficult enough. Adding on behavioral issues is like lighting a match under a stack of kindling and hoping it won't burn through. The smoke already claimed four players. Allowing it to fester could claim even more. It could suffocate an entire roster and extinguish a promising season.
By stepping up to the podium and addressing the program's troubled offseason, Saban sent a message to his players and all those involved: Pride cometh before the fall.
"When guys have entitlement," he said, "you see a little slippage."
And when you're on the top of the mountain, the ground beneath you is shaky enough.
Saban went on to say that many of the team's issues were rectified when players began the offseason conditioning program. Rather than sitting around with a swelling sense of accomplishment, coaches and team leaders were able to grab each player by the neck and remind them just how little they've really done.
"As a team, we all had a meeting and basically told everybody that's not the way we do things," linebacker C.J. Mosley explained. The rising senior is just one of a handful of veterans to return in 2013. Eight former starters have moved on to the NFL, including leaders on both sides of the ball. "It's good that we're back in football because we don't have all of that off time we've been having. We just have to focus on football and going to school. That's when the family and leadership part of things start to set in."
Said Saban: "I think we got them re-centered and refocused and we've improved in all those areas. We've had the best academic week that we've had all semester, and guys are making progress."
"Everybody's got to be able to perform," Saban said. "I don't care what your circumstances are. I don't care what issues or what problems you have, whether you're coming off being hurt, whether you had a bad day academically or whatever. You've still got to show that you're dependable and you can go out there and perform."
The message doesn't appear to be falling on deaf ears. Mosley's said he's never been in Saban's doghouse and doesn't want to find out what it's like. He does, however, know there's only one way out, and it's not by ignoring the problem.
"Just do what you have to do," Mosley said, "and know that you have to be responsible for your own mistakes and your own actions."