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Alabama football coach Nick Saban is 70 years old and reported to be mellowing somewhat.
But do not think Saban doesn’t chew out his assistant coaches here and there like he is still in his 40s or 50s. One of his former assistants at LSU said in 2003 that coaching under Saban was like a “tour of duty.”
During a press conference with Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding on Wednesday ahead of the College Football Playoff national championship game against Georgia Monday (8 p.m. Eastern, ESPN), Golding was asked about Saban.
“I’ve heard from a couple of people around the program that Nick Saban has dispensed fewer of the proverbial ass chewings this year,” said Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated. “Wondering if that’s accurate?”
After Golding stopped laughing, he said, “Absolutely not accurate. No. Whatever you do here, coach is going to make sure that you do it to the best of your ability and you do it the way he sees fit, which I enjoy.”
Good answer, Pete. That will keep the checks coming. Golding, 37, is No. 9 on the assistant coaching salary list at $1.63 million a year and his defense has played plenty well enough so as to avoid any fire from the Sabanator.
Golding is in his third season as Alabama’s defensive coordinator after spending the 2018 season as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. A native of Hammond, Louisiana, who played safety at Delta State in Mississippi, Golding was the defensive coordinator at Texas-San Antonio in 2016 and ’17.
He has the Tide’s defense No. 6 in the nation in fewest total yards allowed a game at 299.8 and is No. 3 in sacks with 3.7 a game as outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr. leads the nation with 17.5. Alabama is No. 13 in fewest points allowed at 19.2 a game. Golding was previously a defensive coordinator at Delta State and Southeastern Louisiana.
“As a player, as a coach, you always want to know what can I do better, how can I improve,” he said. “Whoever you work for, whatever profession you’re in, sometimes you don’t get that. You don’t get the feedback and you don’t know. You get that from him.”
The challenge for Golding against Georgia will be deciding between what to keep and what to add from Alabama’s 41-24 win over the Bulldogs on Dec. 4 in the SEC Championship Game. The Tide did allow 449 yards, and Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett did complete 29 of 48 passes for 340 around two interceptions.
“I think there are some subtle changes that you need to make so that you put your players in the best chance to be successful,” Saban said. “But I also don’t think you can make a lot of changes so that the players can’t execute with confidence.”
Got that, Pete? Make changes, but don’t make changes.
“Defensively, how can you keep things the same, but make them look different,” Golding said. “I think the big thing for any quarterback is what they see is not what they need to get every snap. You’re trying to make him make the decision of what coverage it is, what front is it, what pressure is it.”
Interceptions, throwaways or sacks happen when a quarterback thinks a defense is in one coverage, but isn’t.
“He thinks he’s getting this look, and the ball turns over now, and it’s a different coverage or it’s a different pressure,” Golding said. “And now, he’s got to think. They don’t put in new plays each week. They’re just getting to them differently.”
Georgia is a 3-point favorite by FanDuel, maybe because many feel it is difficult to beat the same team twice in a season. Golding disagrees.
“I don’t think it’s tough having to play somebody twice,” he said. “I know everybody talks about that. I think you go back and you look at what you did the previous game. What are things that we didn’t do well that they took advantage of that we’ve got to find answers for, that we’ve got to correct and improve on.”
Or just do what Saban says to do.
“How can we do the same thing, make it look different to keep it the same for our kids? What do we need to change? Or is it a technique piece? Is it a scheme piece? Is it a personnel issue? Because you know they’re going to come back and try to exploit it,” he said.
“The good thing about him is it’s black and white,” Golding said. “And you’re going to know.”