Bama’s Saban forges bond with equally driven QB

The relationship between Alabama coach Nick Saban and his

quarterback, AJ McCarron, was once best known for a spanking and a

sideline tirade, both captured on camera.

Now, McCarron says it’s more like a ”second Dad and son type

thing.” The BCS championship game MVP is a driven perfectionist

who loathes even small mistakes in practice. Dad No. 2 can

relate.

”That’s why our relationship’s so special, I think,” the

quarterback said. ”We talk about everything.”

The bond has evolved since McCarron arrived in Tuscaloosa, three

years and two national championships ago. Offensive tackle D.J.

Fluker said Saban and McCarron are ”just like brothers.”

McCarron is no longer the precocious teenager to whom Saban

delivered a hard swat on the backside after an ill-conceived pass

against Mississippi State in 2010. (YouTube views: 115,000-plus).

He hasn’t tried to chase down any opposing defensive lineman since

a late hit against Florida when his reaction drew a furious

on-camera expletive from Saban.

McCarron chalks it up to tough love in a relationship that

started developing when Saban was the only head coach to personally

handle all the recruiting visits to Mobile.

”I know he’s going to chew my butt,” McCarron said. ”He knows

what I’m capable of doing and what he expects of me. When I don’t

do the right things and I don’t fulfill what he expects of me then

it’s hard on him.”

Those expectations have only risen. McCarron is trying to lead

the second-ranked Crimson Tide to a second straight national title

and third in four years, starting Sept. 1 against No. 8 Michigan in

Arlington, Texas.

This is clearly McCarron’s team. He’s not fighting for a

starting job the way he was last August. Star tailback Trent

Richardson is in the NFL and the go-to receivers are TBA.

Saban said McCarron’s work ethic didn’t suffer a bit with that

ego boost of a national title game, when he completed 68 percent of

his passes without an interception against LSU. He affectionately

calls his junior quarterback ”a perfectionist” and then compares

McCarron to himself. Around Tuscaloosa, that might be the ultimate

compliment.

”Every play that doesn’t work in practice, you can see him

kicking the sand or whatever with his gestures,” Saban said. ”He

always bounces back for the next play. He’s a really good

competitor. It means a lot to him. He really wants to do well, and

really has developed into a really, really good leader in terms of

how he affects other people.”

”People always ask, `How do you sustain? You’ve been doing this

for 30-something years.’ Well, that’s never the question. It’s how

you’re driven to be who you are. I would be this way if I were

still pumping gas at my Dad’s service station. It’s just the way

you are, and that’s the way AJ is.”

The quarterback might have been at his best after Saban let AJ

be the way he is on the field.

McCarron said that’s what happened after the regular-season loss

to LSU, realizing he plays better with emotion and feistiness. Kind

of like how Saban coaches.

”I was real laidback the first game, real quiet,” McCarron

said. ”Just not my normal self. That’s not how I play the game.

When the second time came around, I knew I had to come out playing

like I’m capable of playing and how I played my whole life since

the age of 4 when I started football.”

The statistical difference between the first meeting with LSU

and the BCS championship game wasn’t all that dramatic, but the

result was: From a 9-6 loss to a 21-0 win.

The passes that stick out in McCarron’s mind are a couple of

missed balls to Brandon Gibson and close friend Brad Smelley.

That’s what he was talking about walking to dinner after the title

game with his father, Tony.

”I said, `Out of all the passes you made, the only thing you

can think of is the bad ones?”’ said Tony McCarron, a driver with

Mobile Fire and Rescue. ”He goes, `Well, it’s the bad ones you

remember. It ain’t the good ones. The good ones, you can easily

forget, but the bad ones never leave you.”’

He doesn’t think McCarron’s success has changed him. The big man

on campus is still quiet, still wears hats out to dinner hoping to

go incognito and still gets embarrassed instead of relishing the

attention. McCarron says he’s ”not a party guy.”

”For somebody that’s in the limelight, that gets as much

attention as he does, he’s very shy,” said Tony McCarron, whose

son Corey is a sophomore tight end for the Tide. ”He doesn’t say a

whole lot. He’s very reserved. He’s been taught well by coach

Saban, and AJ trusts him just completely.”

McCarron, who seldom spoke to the media last season at his own

request, lets his actions speak for him – and his tattoos. He has

”Truly Blessed” and ”A-10” – his jersey number – on his right

hand, ”Family First” on his left. He has an elaborate tattoo on

his chest and stomach, including among other things ”Bama Boy,”

an image of Jesus, a crystal football with ”MVP” through it and

doves representing family members who have died.

”It’s basically everything he loves in life and everything that

means anything to him,” Tony McCarron said.

McCarron’s responses during a recent interview frequently

include the common theme of Saban’s lessons absorbed.

What about not being a preseason first- or second-team All-SEC

pick?

”That goes back to the mind-set that coach Saban has kind of

instilled in me, why worry about anybody else?” McCarron said.

How do you keep plugging away after being the national title

game MVP?

”I think it should drive you to want more,” McCarron said. ”I

know a lot of people get complacent when they achieve what they’ve

always wanted and what their goal’s been their whole life. But if I

have one and I have a chance to get three while I’m here, I’m going

to try to get three. I’m not just going to stick with that one.

That’s not the way I was raised.

”That’s not how I play sports. If I’m going to play it, I might

as well be the best at it and push myself to be the best at it.

That’s the way coach Saban thinks. That man doesn’t care how many

national championships he wins, he just wants to keep winning. I

think that’s the mind-set that I’ve taken from him.”