4th and Goal Every Day
Phil Savage, with Ray Glier
St Martin’s Press, 2018
Buy: Amazon US, Amazon UK

Phil Savage is the analyst on radio broadcasts by the Crimson Tide Broadcast Network, and has been for the last nine years, so he’s well-placed to offer this view of the rise of Nick Saban’s Alabama to college football dominance. However, his qualifications go way beyond that. Savage was a scout with the Browns in the early 1990s – where he first worked with Saban – and went on to be a scout for the Ravens and then general manager of the Browns.

Savage knows football, in other words, so he understands the concepts that go into ‘the Process’ that Saban has instilled in Alabama. His co-writer, Ray Glier, is a very experienced sports writer and does a great job of keeping the text feeling light and easy to read. The result is an engaging book that mixes great anecdotes with rare detail about building and coaching a team. Such is the level of detail, for example, that Savage explains the minimum arm length required to play defensive line or linebacker at Alabama.

The book discusses how Alabama’s practice habits and sense of discipline prepare its players for the NFL and does a good job of tracing the development of Saban’s Process from the Dallas Cowboys of the 1960s, through the Belichick-led Cleveland Browns of the early 1990s and on to Saban’s Alabama.

Among the best of the anecdotes is the one where Savage describes being taught to watch film by Bill Belichick. The pair spent twenty minutes breaking down just one play:

“Belichick went over receiver and lineman splits, the lineman stances, and the initial movements of every player. Then, I got a real tutorial.

“Belichick started charting the quarterback’s head movement. The Browns coach, who would go on to win five Super Bowls with the Patriots, was looking for any edge, and a quarterback’s doing the same thing over and over with his head was a chance for a defensive lineman or blitzing linebacker to jump the snap count and get a sack.

“You’re taking it to another level when you’re charting a quarterback’s head movement. Professional players love when coaches find these tips for them. As you can imagine, Alabama’s players routinely get these kinds of tips.

“Belichick kept my attention with all these details of a single play. Nothing was overlooked. It was mesmerizing.”

The book is something of a hagiography, rarely attributing any fault to Saban and quick to excuse him when it does. You’ll also hear in practically every chapter how many national titles Alabama has won (five in nine seasons at the time of writing, though it was four in eight when the book was written). But these are minor complaints about an engrossing book.

Fans of Alabama should definitely read it but it’s also recommended for anyone interested in coaching and team-building.

Pic: Amy Meredith



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