TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s an annual meeting of the masterminds of football, but player evaluations, chalk talk, and film sessions aren’t the only subjects covered.
For Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, Alabama’s Pro Day is often two days of catching up, reminiscing, and exchanging family stories.
Oh, and there’s plenty of gridiron talk, too.
“It’s great. I mean, you always like to renew relationships. We talk on the phone. Every now and then we’ll do something together, like play golf or something, but this is really fun,” Saban said Wednesday at Alabama’s spacious indoor football facility. “Bill got here yesterday and got to watch practice. We got to spend time together this morning, catching up. Not only on football-related stuff and players, but also family and stuff like that. I think sometimes people that are our fans don’t look at us like we even have that part.’’
The pair’s connection stretches back to 1982, when Saban was coaching with Belichick’s father, Steve, at the Naval Academy. Nearly a decade later, when Bill Belichick took the Browns’ top job, he hired Saban to be his defensive coordinator.
It was during that time the families formed a tight bond.
“Our kids were all little together in Cleveland,” said Belichick. “We knew their kids well and Nick and [his wife] Terry knew our kids well.”
Saban remembered the long days and nights as they got the Browns on track toward the playoffs.
“That was probably the best part of my professional growth and probably the most difficult time because my kids were little, his kids were little, we were both trying to rebuild an organization, and it was very challenging and we weren’t home much,” Saban said. “So, Miss Terry can tell you all about that, but his family, my family, the things we’ve done together through the years went far beyond coaching, and I was good friends with his parents. His dad and I coached together, that’s how we kind of became friends back at the Naval Academy. And you really have a tremendous amount of appreciation and respect for those kind of relationships that go beyond the competitive side of the game.”
And then, of course, there’s plenty of football talk. Belichick, who has drafted a lot of Crimson Tide players over the years, said it’s a no-brainer to make this trip.
“There’s always good players here. They do a great job. These guys are going to play somewhere, whether we draft them or not,” he said. “So, it’s good to get to know them. They do a great job. I like watching film with the players and seeing some of the things schematically that they’re doing.”
Belichick said Saban’s staff, which features a lot of former head coaches, including Massachusetts native Bill O’Brien, is top notch.
“Nick does a great job,” said Belichick. “When his players leave here, they’re ready to go [at the NFL level].’’
Two of those players, Mac Jones and Christian Barmore, are coming off standout rookie seasons in New England, and Saban enjoyed watching them continue to thrive under Belichick.
Saban said the way Jones approached his situation at Alabama — he was behind Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa on the depth chart — was exemplary.
“Mac is really a bright guy and Mac is a great example of somebody who had to show great resiliency and perseverance to learn and grow in an organization for three, four years before he got much of an opportunity,” said Saban. “And he has had really good mentors ahead of him that he had a chance to learn from. He took advantage of every one of those circumstances in every one of those situations. He’s the perfect example of a guy that worked his butt off so that when he got an opportunity, he could take advantage of it. And I think that’s a question that every young player should ask themselves is, ‘Is that what I’m doing? Or am I frustrated with my circumstances and not focused on what I can control?’ So, when you asked me, was I surprised by what Mac did? Not at all, and I’m sure he’ll do nothing but get better.”
As for Barmore, Saban said his growth was impressive to watch.
“He’s talented, for a guy his size to have the kind of initial quickness that he has allows him to be a really good inside pass rusher,” said Saban. “And he’s a fairly instinctive guy in terms of how to apply some of those skills that he has. And with Christian, it was just like a lot of guys that come out early, they have to mature a little bit and realize, ‘What is it I have to do to edit my behavior so I can be successful?’ I think he went through that process here. And I kind of felt like when he went through that and I told Bill that before they picked him that he’ll be a really, really good player.”
Nine Crimson Tide players worked out Wednesday, including offensive tackle Evan Neal, a consensus top-five pick, receiver Slade Bolden, Jones’s former roommate, and running back Brian Robinson Jr., who rushed for 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.
Two receivers, Jameson Williams and John Metchie, both of whom are projected to be early-round picks, didn’t participate as they rehab from torn ACLs suffered late in the season.