Almost 40 years after the former Alabama football coach's retirement and passing, the quote still rings true for the Crimson Tide."When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: One, admit it. Two, learn from it. And three, don't repeat it." — Paul "Bear" Bryant
It's no breaking news that Alabama lost last Saturday night in College Station to Texas A&M. The 41-38 upset of the Crimson Tide sent shockwaves around the college football world, sending Alabama fans into panic mode and, on the opposite side of the emotional spectrum, causing widespread jubilation among the rest of college football.
Goliath had fallen, and David stood over his body while the Israelites rejoiced.
Believe it or not, the Crimson Tide has been in this situation before. While losing hasn't exactly been a common occurrence for Alabama football since head coach Nick Saban came to Tuscaloosa all the way back in 2007, it has happened before. In fact, four of Saban's six national titles at Alabama have come from seasons where the team had a loss during the regular season.
While the fall of the Crimson Tide this past weekend might have caused Alabama fans to wring their hands in despair, it seems to have had the opposite effect on Saban and his players.
Coming off of losing the 2017 College Football Playoff title game 35-31 to Clemson, Saban spoke about failure at SEC Media Days the following summer. The quote has been an oft-referenced guiding point for Alabama football ever since: never waste a failure.
"I think when you lose, everybody's much more — the mindset is much more I'm willing to change," Saban said in 2017. "I want to learn. I don't want to waste a failure."
Now, four years later, the saying is being re-popularized by Saban and his players once again. For the Crimson Tide, it is now more relevant than ever.
On Monday, Saban conducted his first availability with the media since the loss at the hands of the Aggies. It was then that his old quote from 2017 was first brought up by a media member.
After being reminded of his words, Saban took the time to define what it means to never waste a failure.
“I think that what it means, very simply, is sometimes the best lessons you learn are when you do have failings," Saban said. "And you can always learn more when you don't do something exactly right. And it's human nature to be more willing to learn, when things don't go right. And so, I think you don't want to waste the opportunity that when you did things that weren't successful, how could I improve on those things so that I become a better player. My performance is better, it helps the team more.
"So when I say don't waste to failing, it's not getting frustrated with the fact that you failed, it's your response to the failure and how you can sort of correct it and do it better the next time.”
Wednesday marks the four-day mark since the Crimson Tide's first loss of the season. With two practices under its belt while the team prepares for this Saturday's matchup with Mississippi State, it's clear that the mentality of the team has shifted from overconfidence to humility.
Humility. I believe there's another quote from Bryant about that subject.
“It’s awfully important to win with humility. It’s also important to lose. I hate to lose worse than anyone, but if you never lose you won’t know how to act. If you lose with humility, then you can come back.” — Paul "Bear" Bryant
There's no doubt that Alabama took a punch to the mouth last Saturday. However, it's not about how they got hit. To the coaches and players of the Crimson Tide, it's now about how they respond.
Since Saban's defining of what it means to not waste a failure, several players have since referenced the quote and have provided their own interpretation of the expression. It is clear that the Crimson Tide are not looking back on the loss as the beginning of the end. Rather, the team is reflecting on it as a means to improve on their mistakes.
Running back Brian Robinson Jr. was the first player to reference the quote, following Saban on Monday.
"What it says to me is that all the little things matter, all the things they stress during the week," Robinson said. "To stay on track, all the little things matter, and they matter the most in a big time situation. If you aren’t buying this stuff to be a winner, it will come back to bite us at a bad time. [Saban is] always on us about staying on the little things, and if something goes wrong, he makes sure we know why it didn’t go.”
One of the recurring themes that Saban has harped on time and time again dating back to the days of fall camp is lack of intensity and preparation. Alongside the stressing of developing leadership on the team, Saban has consistently hinted that this year's team has lacked focus and mental preparedness.
That doesn't seem to be the case now, though. With a 5-0 record heading into Texas A&M, Alabama walked into College Station with the mindset that it couldn't be beaten. It was Alabama, after all. Why should it be concerned? Now with an L in the loss column, though, and the team's mindset has changed completely.
The change in mental preparation was evidenced in defensive lineman D.J. Dale's meeting with the media on Tuesday.
“I feel like it starts with preparation," Dale said. "We should have never been in that situation in the first place. It started on Monday, carried over to Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday just from a lack of preparation. But he said it before it even happened that we were gonna get hit in the mouth if we prepared the way we were preparing.”
Alabama isn't seeing the loss as the beginning of the end. Instead, it is reflecting on the loss and using it as an opportunity to correct errors and refresh its approach heading into the second half of the season.
Bryant instructed that players are to learn from their mistakes as well as both win and lose with humility. Saban instructed to never waste a failure. By heeding the words of the two Alabama coaching legends, this team could still be on track to yet another College Football Playoff appearance.
That being said, the choice of whether it wastes its failure or takes advantage of it is completely up to them.
After the Crimson Tide's first loss since 2019, a shift in approach and preparation guided by principles of the team's coaches — both current and former — is needed to get the team back on track.