In his post-practice press conference this past Monday, Nick Saban, the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, was asked by Ian Rappaport, a beat reporter for the Birmingham News, how he intended to work with the scholarship numbers in the fall, when freshman report. By Rappaport’s count there are currently sixty-six players on the Tide roster with scholarships and if the University intends on bringing in twenty-five new freshman in August, as they are allowed by NCAA rules, then six current players will lose their scholarship. In the written report Saban seems curt but factual. Rappaport seems to dismiss it as verbal sparring and even hints that he knew it would be tough to ask and get a good answer, but he had to anyway. Anyone familiar with Alabama press coverage knows this is not the first time that Saban has had some tense exchanges with Rappaport. You can read Ian’s blog entry about it here.
This morning I saw a video clip of the exchange from an ESPN show that was posted on The Wizard of Odds. I’ve spoken before of the anti-Saban agenda I have perceived from the Wiz and his post this morning backs that up. However, seeing the actual footage shines a whole new light on things.
Saban was visibly agitated; bouncing on the dais as he addressed the question and spouting of age-old arguments like, “It’s none of your business”. After watching the clip I have come away with the impression that Nick Saban is in fact, a tactless jerk. I’m not going to make excuses for him and I’m not going to sugar coat it. Nick Saban was rude.
Alabama fans have all been duped and we should ban together and have him run out of town. We are certainly capable of doing that; just ask Dennis Franchione, Bill Curry, and Mike Shula. There is no reason we should tolerate this behavior from the leader of our vaunted football program. The most powerful man in the state of Alabama is a total asshole and I for one am not going to stand for it anymore.
Alright, I have said nothing that anyone didn’t already know. I do believe that some of us wanted to believe that his national image was a fabrication by the media and to an extent, it is. I believe that they do nothing to help the situation but then again neither does he.
There is such a spotlight on the Alabama program and Saban himself that any negative seems to be put out for national consumption and ridicule and it would seem that pundits are eager for the demise of one or both. One of the ESPN anchors even referred to it as Saban’s “I’m a man. I’m forty” moment. That’s sensationalism.
As a fan, that perception is troubling, but at the end of the day I really don’t care. Saban may be an asshole but he is our asshole. I don’t believe that he was hired to be a smooth-talking press agent, I believe that he was hired to bring the program back to a place where winning every game is not only expected but is a big probability. LSU was favored in every game it played this past year. Alabama fans expect that to be the case here as well. As long as Saban appears to have Alabama on that path there is no reason to believe that he will take too much internal heat – by that I mean in the program itself or supporters of the program. It is reasonable to say that he could chew-out an old lady or a boy scout and no one is going to get too upset, as long as we are still recruiting well and/or winning with much more consistency.
Let’s look at who he is being rude to: sports reporters. Other than reporters themselves, who cares if they are treated poorly. I dare say that most reporters are not too sweet to the people they report about. Ray Melick wrote a column that, according to the accounts I have read of it – I refuse to read Melick because I believe him to be an ill-informed, verbal diarrhea spouting douchebag – claims that Saban will only allow access to media that have something to offer him in return. If that is the case then good for Saban. Columnists like Melick (and Finebaum and Scarbinsky) have gone on for a long time being able to state what they think with zero possibility of censure, even if the statement was total garbage. I, for one cannot get too upset about that type of comeuppance.
I’m going to take a minute to apologize to Brian at Mgoblog . Brian did a post referring to Saban as a snake oil salesman mainly due to his dealings with scholarship athletes and the practice of over signing. There was a lot of backlash about the post and he was called a lot of names. I am certain I didn’t call him a lot of names but I did feel his opinion to be biased and ill-informed. I can’t remember if I commented on his blog but I feel he is owed an apology even if “I only thought bad things” . It appears that, to an extent, Brian was right and while I don’t agree with everything he said or the manner in which he said it, Alabama has over signed and someone, regardless of the manner it is done, will lose a scholarship.
I am not sure how I feel about that. There are a lot of factors that I will never be aware of. Kids will leave on their own accord and some may be run off. There will certainly be more medical issues and some will see the writing on the wall, but even if just one kid is told that his scholarship is revoked then Brian will be vindicated. The sad fact of this business, and don’t kid yourself to think that it is anything but a business, is that, like any other business, personal feelings are sometimes thrown out the window for success. I believe that I am alright with that. First of all I feel powerless to do anything about it, even if I believed it to be an injustice and second, if Saban is successful and Alabama starts winning again, I would more than likely, in all honesty, trade the bad feelings for one pine riding athlete for the emotional high of a victory over Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, or dare I say an SEC Championship.
Is it unfair? Yes. Does it happen at other schools and in other places in our society? Absolutely. Is that right? I don’t know. If it were me that got booted then I would probably say no. My personality is also one that says, what could I have done better to stay on the team? I am not a believer in placing blame, most of the time. I believe that I have power over my situation and in almost every situation there is something I can do or could have done to effect the outcome. I am confident though, that my belief system will do nothing to comfort the player and his family as his ride is taken form him- if in fact, it is.
The other side of the coin is that this whole thing is an athletic competition. With competition being the key word. As with any competition the argument begins and ends with the scoreboard. Having the moral high ground is little consolation while walking from the stadium with your head held down in defeat. At those moments the phrases, “our coach isn’t an ass” or “we don’t over sign” carry little to no weight. It is those moments, in victory or defeat, that give us the emotional surges that keep us hooked. Everything else is filler.
Nick Saban was hired to insure that Alabama stays relevant in this business (there’s that word again). To be relevant in the modern world of college football you need to have several things: fans, which equates to draw which equates to money are the main ones. To keep that flow you need to win. In the absence of winning, history and tradition will serve to sate the masses, but only for a while. You can live on cereal, but after awhile, even if you spruce it up with milk and sugar, it’s still just cereal and you need a little steak to remind you of the good life.
Winning is everything in this game. Have you ever noticed that Finebaum rose to his biggest success during the worst time in Alabama history? See when you are winning, Finebaum (and Melick) and other talking heads are just afterthoughts. If Saban wins here, those people will get on board and sing the company line or they will be irrelevant. When you are used to and expect to win , losing creates a void. That void has to be filled and the bulk of the filler is criticism and turmoil. If the winning starts up again all won’t necessarily won’t be forgotten but it will become irrelevant. Losing makes things worse than they appear.
I’m not for one minute suggesting that winning at all cost is to be accepted, because it shouldn’t be. Integrity is important but integrity is also not an absolute concept in the skewed light of this sport. For example Sylvester Croom is chock full of integrity but if he has another losing season he is probably out at State. I don’t say that it is right, I’m just saying it’s the way it is. You have to win first, then your integrity shines through. I think Mike Sula had a lot of integrity. He and his integrity are coaching quarterbacks in Jacksonville now.
Rudeness, while it isn’t a good thing, is not the worst thing. Losing a scholarship isn’t a good thing but then again college football isn’t in reality a means to educate young men, there are lots of ways for that to happen if one is willing to work. It’s all about being competitive on the football field; at least at this University it is. It’s easy for outsiders to point and throw around names like classless and morally reprehensible but the fact also remains that young men and their parents have seen enough of what they like to take the involved risks and play for what they believe will be a winner.
So I say, say what you want. It’s probably skewed by the agenda your working from and the small piece of the puzzle you see and more than likely in the years to come we’ll be able to point and say: Scoreboard.