Nick Saban heard it.
His players sure did too – especially Will Anderson. In a polite setting, Saban calls these Alabama fans “naysayers” and you can hear the passion when he spoke about them Saturday night. Alabama had just beaten Auburn, 49-27 in the Iron Bowl for their third consecutive win since their second loss of the season.
The coach who shuns outside noise took a different tone when addressing discontent from within the Crimson Tide fanbase. He saw it fuel that team in the weeks after the November 5 overtime loss at LSU.
“All we have and all we need.”
That’s the trick Alabama players have been repeating since that final moment in Baton Rouge when a second loss in three games seemed to scuttled any playoff conversation. But now, though still an outside prospect, more mayhem paired with Alabama wins on Ole Miss, and Austin Peay and Auburn are getting the tide back in the conversation.
Saban and several Crimson Tide players said negativity from outside the program’s walls fueled the fire.
“Absolutely,” said Alabama offensive lineman Emil Ecure. “It’s kind of hard to ignore playing in a league like this. But as a team, I think it brought us closer together. Lean on each other.”
It was Anderson, the All-American linebacker who Ecure said brought the “we all have it all we need” mantra to the Alabama locker room. Bryce Young would repeat it over and over during practices and game warm-ups.
What followed wasn’t always pretty but Alabama escaped Ole Miss winning 30-24 before beating FCS Austin Peay last week and dumping Auburn’s highest offensive total (516) since the Oct. 15 loss at Tennessee.
Ecure said the motivational kick in the pants came when it couldn’t have been bleaker.
“Everyone was so upset after (LSU’s) loss and it helped give us something to lean on and lean on each other,” he said. “I think we’ve come a lot closer with those experiences and maybe we’ve helped in the last two games.”
He’s usually not one to listen to outsiders, said defensive lineman DJ Dale
“But obviously some things you really can’t avoid,” he said. “…nobody sees what we do on a daily basis, so their opinion doesn’t matter. That’s the way I see it.”
And while Saban notes the fire these “naysayers” are starting in the locker room right now, he’s not a fan of that debate in a broad sense. He first thanked the fans who braved wet weather on Saturday and whose noise contributed to the creation of Auburn’s six false flags, he had something else for the seedy bottom of the culture.
“Negative people and dissenters, if you support the University of Alabama, you’re hurting the university and hurting the program because it’s a reflection of our culture and how positive we are,” Saban said. And that program was built on a positive foundation. It was built on the 95,000 people who came to the spring game the first spring we were here and everyone wanted to be a part of that.
“It wasn’t built on naysayers. It wasn’t built on negativity. It wasn’t built on an expectation that if we don’t succeed at a certain level, there will be a lot of criticism. And I think that brought this team together more than anything.”
The culture has been a talking point for Saban and a number of former Crimson Tide players who have criticized what they have seen this season. Questions about mentality came not only from the bar stools and cheap stools but from the alumni who were wearing those uniforms.
While Saban said culture was something they’ve been emphasizing in recent weeks. He said on a recent radio show that it “pains” me to see this criticism from alumni but that we are “working on it.”
On Saturday, he gave full approval to the locker room.
“The culture of the program is as good as ever, and the players compete like they’ve always been,” he said, “So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the culture here. We lost two games by four points. Nobody feels bad about it from me and the guys who made a tremendous commitment to try and win those The matches are in tough places on the road and there’s nothing else I can say about that.”
Now, Alabama must wait.
The program will need some help to make it back into the College Football Playoff, but, at the very least, there is pride within the program with how the last three weeks of this regular season turned out.
And for that, they give nothing less than thanks to the haters. They’ve helped unite an Alabama football program that has performed since the buses left Tiger Stadium on the first Saturday in November.
Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @employee or on Facebook.