These days, if he truly deserves the “manager” tag, then perhaps it should be “team manager.” McCarron is entering his fifth season on campus and third as the starting quarterback, and Tide coach Nick Saban has made it clear he’s the player who should lead the squad — not just the offense.
With Alabama’s spring workouts set to end Saturday with the annual A-Day Game, McCarron apparently is handling the leadership thing awfully well — if Saban’s comments Thursday are any indication.
“He has really taken command,” Saban said. “That’s probably the biggest reason we seem to be further along on offense, because there’s really strong leadership there.
“He’s in a position to do it. He takes the responsibility to do it and he really stepped up. He has improved. I think he has knowledge and experience at what he’s doing, a better understanding of the offense.”
Saban said McCarron even has worked to improve the skills that helped him lead the nation in passing efficiency last year: “His arm is even stronger than it was before, which was one of the things we wanted to work on with him.”
McCarron said he has tried to speak up more often with his teammates. His voice has carried through team meetings and practices.
“I complain a bunch,” he said, smiling. “They probably don’t like it. I’ve learned so much from coach Saban, so I probably act sometimes too much like him on the field.
“I can see younger guys, but if you’re an older guy still blowing some things when you’re not supposed to, that’s really when I get heated. I do it all for the best. I’m not trying to knock somebody down. I know how to praise them when they do good. But I expect them to do the right thing — and that’s the biggest thing with me.”
McCarron said his biggest aim as a team leader is to avoid Alabama dropping off from what it has been in recent years.
He used a quote by Michael Jordan — someone Saban mentions often — to sum up his feelings: “It’s not the first one that’s the hardest to win, it’s every one after that.”
“So what’s your purpose, really?” McCarron asked. “Why are you coming out every day? Everybody has a time and an era in college football. USC went through it. Florida went through it. Miami went through it for all those years.
“Our biggest thing to me is, why does your time and era have to end? That was the biggest key that I was trying to tell those guys, that it doesn’t have to end if we stay team-oriented, not individual success.”
McCarron added, “We don’t want our names to be, ‘What happened to the 2013 team,’ as in why did they fall off? We don’t want to be in that conversation, and be one of those leaders who let it happen.”
Saban has said he appreciates this kind of maturity from McCarron. Apparently, he isn’t the only one. President Barack Obama commented on it Monday when he hosted the Alabama football team at the White House.
“AJ McCarron showed the kind of poise that very few 22-year-olds possess — passing for more than 2,900 yards and 30 touchdowns on the season,” Obama said. “I hear he’s coming back for one more year, because apparently the rest of the SEC defenses haven’t suffered enough. So he’s going to subject them to a little more pain.”
When those comments were mentioned to McCarron, that’s where his maturity dropped just a little. He grinned and seemed like nothing more than an excited college student.
“He gave me the shout-out, which was pretty awesome,” McCarron said, the grin getting a little bigger. “There aren’t many times the President of the United States gives you a shout-out. I thought that was pretty cool.”
Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter @MarkSportsStar.