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Nine months after my last post, almost exactly two years after my first post, and the week of one of the absolute best things about college and Alabama football seems like a pretty good time to try out the internets again. So here I am.

In way of a brief explanation, as I shared with you about this time last year, my last official gig ended and I went out on my own. Things are going relatively well on that front but running a business is incredibly time consuming. Also, last winter I became a dad again (for the third time) and lack of sleep coupled with increased duties with the other two take up a lot more time. Finally, Alabama had a pretty good year last year and my level of contentment with “the process” allowed me to focus on other outlets.  I do this because I enjoy it and it fills a creative need but lately when the desire to write struck there seemed to be something else that “needed” to be done. I realize my tiny voice is one that is easily lost in the din but I do appreciate all the inquiries into my whereabouts. Thanks to you all.

So, I understand there is a game this weekend. What’s going on with that?

  • Tennessee wants to wear orange. While Saban tends to say things like jersey color don’t matter – and they don’t – I’m not at all surprised that the request was denied. Of course the Vols are going to say we’re doing the fans a disservice, but the fact remains that a.) Kiffin raided the coaching staff, b.) said coach has been lying to recruits, and c.) this is still Tennessee. So screw UT. Why extend to them any courtesy at all other than letting them have a locker room? They wouldn’t, and haven’t done the same for Alabama. I understand from off-the-record comments that Saban is not a fan of the Volunteers and I believe that the way Alabama has been prepared to play, and has executed against UT in his tenure lends that some credence so it makes sense that UT was not granted the concession. I say no quarter asked or given in this rivalry. They’ll probably end up in those gaudy orange pants anyway. Orange sucks, people! (Update: As usual, the guys at Bama Sports Report put it into perspective)
  • McElroy Struggling. G-Mac has, without a doubt, had two bad outings (against competent defenses) after some pretty good outings (against less than stellar defenses). I’m not ready to bench him though. I’m not even ready to verbally abuse him by comparing him to other, less-than-good quarterbacks, like another Alabama blog writer who tends to overuse the word “nevertheless” and speaks of the team in the first-person.  I don’t think McElroy was quite as good as the early season success showed, nor do I think he is as bad as his last outings would indicate. Despite Monty Kiffiin’s (bow in awe, people) vaunted defense I think we’ll see a little more regression to the mean this week. Meaning we won’t see as much forcing to Julio, a little more Colin Peek and Marquis Maze, and a steadier reliance on play-action. McElroy will be alright. Aight!
  • Tennessee Overall. I’ll preafce by saying this: anything can happen. Anything. UT could come in here and play the game of the decade and beat Alabama. But it isn’t very likely. This is not a good football team and there is no way around that. Tony Barnhart called this out as a trap game in the summer. But part of his premise was that UT would be winless in the conference. As you all know they aren’t. Beating a dreadful Georgia team hurt them more, in the context of this weekend’s contest, than anything. There wasn’t much chance that Alabama would overlook this UT team anyway but the big win in Knoxville ten days ago only served to make sure everyone was paying attention. As Mike Strange points out, UT’s first half  body of work doesn’t look near as good as it did. SEC Offenive Player of the Week aside, Crompton is not a good QB and the Alabama defense should make that very evident. Hardersty is a great back, but Alabama’s run defense  is no slouch either. The defense’s ability to nuetralize Crompton and make the game one-dimensional should effectively negate Hardesty (and super-frosh Bryce Brown as well). Things get a little more dicey with Alabama’s offense versus Tennessee’s defense. While statistically, they are a good defense, Auburn – yes the same Auburn that was just run over roughshod by Arkansas and Kentucky – lit them up like a Christmas tree. As I said, anything can happen, but if Alabama holds onto the ball and McElroy takes just one step back towards averages, we should be singing “Rammer Jammer” by mid fourth quarter.

I rarely agree with Scarbinsky. I beleive him to be a failed Dennis Miller wannabe and sensationalistic blowhard. But I will give him props when he deserves them.

He’s a little more bullish on the prospects of the football team that Alabama will field in ’09 than some of the “experts” are.

Basically, three pundits have proclaimed the Tide a top six team that will be in the mix for the national title again.

In this instance, I thinks he’s got it right.

I’ll go ahead and go on the record now and say that Alabama should begin the season around 15. You don’t immediately contend with 2/5 of an experienced offensive line (including replacements at center and left tackle) or a wide-eyed quarterback.

The possibiltity is there to see addition by subtraction at the signal caller position but the line will take a few games to get it together either way. You don’t go on a strong campaign without good line play. You just don’t.

The only saving grace could be the schedule. Auburn and Ole Miss will be the toughest road games, not the mention the season opener againast a Virginia Tech team that improved most of the last half of the season. The Tide does get a rebuilding Tennessee, an improved Arkansas, and an always dangerous LSU at home. Exchaning Georgia for South Carolina helps as well.

My belief is that the offense is purring by the end of the season and the defense has become other worldly. This makes me think that as play begins in 2010 that Alabama will be loaded at most every position and a top three pre-season ranking will be warranted.

I don’t think that the parallels are exactly the same but, for the most part, the third year of a new coach, following a great second year, is usually down. LSU just completed the worst season since Saban’s third year. The fourth year is statiscally a good year though. Just look at Saban, Meyer, or Les Miles for further proof.

(ht: Bama Sports Report)

All kind of news events happening in and around the Alabama football periphery. I’ll start with the most important:

Image from Dan Lopez/The Tuscaloosa News (used without permission)

The Houndstooth is opening today. Anyone who has gone to school at the University or been to a game on campus knows at least where the Houndstooth is. It has been a staple to students and football fans for at least twenty years and with the possible exception of Egan’s is the dean of bars on the Strip. To the credit of the ownership they have constantly improved over time, adding the outdoor porch in the late 90′s and conveniently locating the temporary, football-season home of Big Bad Wolves Barbecue immediately next door. Even with the rise of tailgating on the Quad, which was brought about by the advent of portable satellite television, it has remained a popular pre and post game destination.

Well, the newly renovated building is opening today. From verbal reports (and the picture above) it seems that the ceiling height is much greater than the old wood structure. This can only be a good thing for the lungs at least, for as we deduced long ago, the severe hangovers were as much caused by the toxic levels of second-hand-smoke we inhaled as the ridiculous amounts of cheap alcohol and draft beer we consumed there.

I spent many an hour and dollar there through college. I met some of my best friends there -one was a bouncer there for a while in the mid-nineties. It was also a requisite stop on evenings out and the place to meet and celebrate victory or commiserate the loss. While it certainly is not sui generis of college-town sports-bars around the country, it is very unique for Tuscaloosa. It is both a landmark and tradition and with the new, handsome building will hopefully continue to be for a long time in the future. Best of luck and I’ll be on my way soon for the obligatory drink of celebration.

Nick Saban is the most influential coach in all of footballdom. All of it. At least according to Forbes. If anybody knows about such things, I am sure it’s them. I haven’t read it yet and so won’t comment other than to say, “take that Tubbs”. Here, I’ll get it out of the way: … Tuberville owns him just like he does Alabama. Happy? (HT: The Noodle)

Burnthall Quits. In news that, no doubt will be reported by Saban haters who have little else to do but spin the webs of animosity towards a man they have never nor will ever meet in order to feel better about their own pathetic lives, Sam Burnthall quit the team. While he played very little in his first three seasons for the Tide and was not very likely to see playing time this season as well [to be honest I forgot he was on the team. ed.] this will no doubt be spun as Saban forcing kids from their scholarships to make room for the new uber-recruits that Saban has, at this very moment, being constructed from robotic parts and forced pregnancies of human breeding stock chosen only for their athletic prowess and of course, the whole system is manned with underage, Asian, sweatshop workers, and supervised by Nazis who feed them only gruel and beat them with phone books. I’m certain that Brian Cook is doing the scholarship math for his first off-season post titled, “Nick Saban: Spawn of the Underworld”.

Mad props to the WWL. At least one small part of it. Chris Low has been in Tuscaloosa since Tuesday night and has lots of good tidbits from the team on his blog. Chris contributed some to ESPN.com in the past but his addition as a full time and in particular his blog are good thing. Of course, just like Maisel, Forde, Schlabach, and Feldman, I’m certain I’ll vacillate between loathing and jubilant praise with him depending on what he’s saying on any give day, especially when it concerns Alabama. Low is leaving title-town today and heading to Stark-vegas to spend some time with Sly and the Family Croom.

You think you’ve seen goofing off at work? There are now 14 days until the first college football game of the year and 16 until Alabama and Clemson. Get your business taken care of – life is about to get a lot better. At least until Alabama loses the first time, then we’ll all piss and moan, but at least it will be in-season pissing and moaning which is infinitesimally better than the off-season variety.

Yeah, I know I’m behind with this, but I didn’t want to miss out on Alabama Gameday’s questions:

Which non-conference home-and-home series would you most like to see?

I’ve spoken before of my love for the Oklahoma game; that was my favorite OOC that I’ve ever been to. There are several games that fit the bill for me and I would be happy with any of, say, Notre Dame, Penn State, Nebraska, USC, Georgia Tech, or Texas. If you had to have one single team though, I’d have to pick Oklahoma.

Which of the following is the most likely win for Alabama this year: LSU, Tennessee or Auburn?

Despite what one of my blogger friends, who happens to pull for UT says, I think the win against Tennessee will be the most likely. Pre-season they would be my pick for least talented, most potential problem team of the three. But if there is a guarantee it is this: after the fifth or six week of the season, the dynamic will have changed and this prediction will be different… or maybe it won’t.

Who will be the #2 quarterback coming out of Fall practice?

With no other knowledge than the stereotypical type that freshman really struggle with all the necessary skills to quarterback a team, I believe it will not be Star Jackson. McElroy is older but both him and Fanuzzi have been in the system the same amount of time. Fanuzzi was recruited by Saban and probably is closer to the type of QB that the coach is looking for, so I’m giving my absolutely meaningless endorsement to Fanuzzi.

If you could swap any two SEC schools for any other schools in the Southeast, which would they be?

I’d get rid of the Arkansas (it’s just too far away) in the West and swap them for Southern Miss and I’d get rid of Vanderbilt and swap them for Florida State because that would make their rivalry with Florida mean more than bragging rights plus it would be coll to play them more often.

Here are the responses to the new round of questions from the good folks at Roll Bama Roll:

1. And the Valley Shook recently posted their thoughts on “Saban the Disciplinarian.” As LSU partisans, they have a lot more experience with Coach Saban than we do, and I’m interested in your thoughts on why we feel like Saban is the man to restore discipline in Tuscaloosa.

If there is a maxim I have when it comes to college football, it is this: Winning cures everything. Since football is a game, it is about wins and losses and if a coach doesn’t win nothing else he does, no matter how good for a player or society as a whole, matters very much – at least in the court of public opinion. That is not to say that he doesn’t need to be a stand-up guy and expect that from his players but at the end of the day it’s about winning football games. Had Coach Bryant not won a whole bunch of football games the copious stories of making men from boys would never be heard. Bryant’s legacy, at its root, is about turning boys into winners. I never thought I would find my self agreeing with anything that Terry Bowden said but in a recent interview he quoted his father who stated, “If discipline won football games then Army and Navy would never lose.” (I’m going from memory, that could be slightly off – but the point is the same). Auburn fans are crowing now about the type of players Tubberville recruits and the comparative problems that aren’t happening in their program. All this talk will come to naught or at worst become an excuse should Alabama win in the November. Does that mean that I think what happened with Johns and Elder, and Castille, Johnson, et al is alright? No, but with the exception of Johns ans Elder, I’m not that surprised or upset either and I do not believe that Johns and Elder are the face of the program. When all of Shula’s recruits are gone the problems will not magically stop, but I don’t believe you can have a program that is trouble-free and also successful on the field. I’d be happy to entertain contenders for that title but I can’t think of one right off. I also don’t believe young men, from 18 to 23 are getting worse. I think that society has changed, for the worse, and that we are now apprised of every single event that happens. Boys, so to speak, will always be boys, but instead of rumor around campus, their antics are the fodder for a multitude of media outlets.

To summarize, football coaches are paid to win football games. That is all. If we want a team devoid of trouble of any sort then we need to hire a drill instructor and recruit kids from the best backgrounds. If that happened Alabama wouldn’t be in the Fulmer Cup standings but then again they wouldn’t be in the A.P. and Coaches standings either.

2. And on that note, what’s your gut instinct on any further arrests before the start of the season?

I hope we’re done. I believe that should have scared everybody straight and I also believe that Johns absence will help to unite the team.

3. On a forward looking note, name the game you are most excited about this coming season and why.

Always the Tennessee game; whether it’s Mid-March, the start of July, the end of September, or the day after it’s played, the Third Saturday in October defines college football for me.

4. What’s the game you are dreading the most?

Georgia- It’s just going to be so tough to win in Athens and my loathing of the sanctimonious spouting of the typical Georgia fan makes we not excited about that contest.

5. Finally, give me the dream play you want to see posted in YouTube form on every football blog this season involving the Crimson Tide.

A Lee Tiffin field goal sailing through the uprights as time expires and the instantaneous bowing of heads of the Georgia faithful as their national championship dreams collapse around them. You could replay that for LSU and Auburn as well, although in all honesty I think that Little Brother will be the only other team we play that might still harbor those dreams when we play them.

I know I’ve had too many posts that begin with the words “Nick Saban” lately, but I couldn’t pass this up. While the rest of the college football world has been either laughing about the so called “Saban” rule – that keeps head coaches in the football building instead of the recruiting trail during the spring – or celebrating the victory of Saban not being able to out recruit them, Nick Saban has been figuring out a way to keep up the face time with high school recruits. Video conferencing.

The NCAA allows for prospects to call, or in this instance, video conference with head coaches recruiting them. All they have to do is go to the distance learning lab, which is in most high schools now. Saban has a web cam in his office and can talk face-to-face with them even though he can’t step foot in their high school. In a rare instance Kevin Scarbinsky brings something other than lame-ass Dennis Miller wannabe metaphors to the table and actually does some reporting.

As we speak Urban Myer is having the web cam installed in his office, as is Ron Zook. Phil Fulmer on the other hand is still figuring out how to get his glaze encrusted finger unstuck from the rotary dial. Just when he though he had this telephone thing beat too.

(HT: Ian Rapoport)

I wasn’t quite sure where I was going with whole thing when I got started, or maybe, I did not intend to end up where I am when this began would be a better way of saying it.

At first, I was angered by what I considered negative press, from both the Wizard of Odds and the World Wide Leader, but then I became a little more understanding after I saw the video of Nick Saban and Ian Rapoport’s exchange. I did and still believe that situation – the answer to “the question”- could have been handled with more tact. There was the belief that Ian could shed more light on it. He did that, but also during this process- I’m starting to love that word- he did much more, or rather his answers to my question and his subsequent thoughts and anecdotes, whether intended or not, made me really dig deeper into this stew – which has many flavors and cooks very slowly – and think out a lot of things. I’m going to try to organize all that in the post and place it out there for your consumption.

First things first; I have really appreciated all the comments, which have been mostly positive, for the latest posts. I also appreciate the new readers that have stopped by for this. I hope you’ll return. I also would like to think those that added this site to their links. I’ve got a much busier day checking the blogs that linked me and catching up on my blog roll. I owe thanks to Orson and Holly at EDSBS – their links always generate a lot of traffic. Also thanks to the guys at RollBamaRoll and Gerry Dorsey at Uncle Rico’s Time Machine, who has been with me for a while now. To shorten this up, basically look at my blog roll and check those folks out if you haven’t. Finally, very special thanks to Ian Rapoport, who took a chance and placed his trust in someone he knew only as Picture Me Rollin.

Here is what I learned, in no certain order:

There is no such thing as good or bad news. There is only news and all of it is worth reporting. The news itself has no character or temperament. We, the consumer, add the connotation to it. A completely hypothetical situation would be Nick Saban yelling at a recruit’s mother. This would be horrible news to Alabama fans, whether they admitted it or not. Tommy Tuberville on the other hand would probably dance a jig if that happened, especially if it was the mother of a recruit he wanted. You could also be certain Auburn fans would rejoice inwardly and outwardly – after calling Finebaum and condemning Saban. Granted, Alabama fans and Saban would not want this publicized because of the reflection on the school but rest assured that it is news and would be reported. Just because we as don’t like something does not mean it isn’t newsworthy.

Some things are not news, or at least shouldn’t be. Jeremy Elder’s mother was upset about his arrest. That is certain and quoting her saying as much did nothing for anybody. If she said she didn’t care that he had been arrested that might be news.

I once knew someone (cough-cough) who did Jager shots with a former, high-profile, student-athlete who may or may not have been of legal drinking age. There are certain people who would call this news and would give it a negative connotation, but to me, it isn’t news. It was a college kid doing the same thing I did as a college kid. Would he have been better served being at home watching a movie? Probably, but then again, I would have been better off doing that as well.

The internet age is vastly different, as far as information dispersal, than any other time before. With the free flow of information and the ease with which it can be accessed there are bound to be changes in what we, the public, find out about. This certainly has not always been the case. I have heard stories about Joe Namath’s time on our campus that would make Jenna Jameson and Hunter S. Thompson blush. Those were not put out there for mass public consumption and none of us are the any worse for it, in spite of the fact that if any one of those instances happened to a college athlete today, his dismissal would be eminent (unless he played quarterback at LSU). I believe that some things, in regards to player’s personal lives specifically, should not be reported. Most of the time they are not, and brushes with the law should be fair game, but I do worry about the future. In the absence of real news there is tendency to “create” news out of things that are not.

Reporters are not fans. They view things completely different than we do. Despite my recent flirtations with what some consider journalism and no matter how my tongue-in-cheek paragraphs about firing Saban were perceived, I am a huge Alabama fan, and in that light is the way, I hope, that I always view things. I take pride in the accomplishments of the University of Alabama and it pains me when bad things happen to it, its reputation, and the people associated with it. When I consume news that concerns the program, whether I witness it in person or read or hear a report about it, my perspective is how it affects the program and ultimately me.

I’ll give a few examples: Alabama hired Nick Saban as a coach…they got a great recruiting class… depth was developed in the defensive lines… blue chip recruits are leaning towards Alabama; all these things increase the probability that Alabama will win on the football field in the future, and that makes me happy. It also makes it less likely that the rival fans of my favorite team will have real ammunition to tease me about – Trey Blackmon’s troubles with the law are good news to me (see above) but if I’m an Auburn fan, it is much more easily dismissed as taunting because of the win streak.

Conversely when Alabama has players arrested, or a recruit chooses UT or AU over Alabama, or Saban announces a decision to leave, the probability of wins on the field is diminished and that is not good in my mind.

Alabama has a large fan base and rabid support because it has a history of winning on the field and it has the potential to do that again. Vanderbilt (sorry – no offense) has support but there is a reason that Alabama puts more fans in their stadium when they play in Nashville; Vanderbilt, while a fine institution – perhaps better than Alabama in many regards – does not win football games. Fans want to see wins. End of story.

My desire is to see Alabama victorious on Fall Saturdays. To that end, I process all information concerning Alabama with its effect on that outcome. Ian, as a beat reporter, disseminates information to the masses about Alabama football regardless of its effect on game outcomes. If it’s news he’s going to report it because that is his job. I believe that the tough part for him is putting that information out there in truthful a manner as possible. I say that because his only request before he talked to me was that I represent him truthfully and that was harder than I thought it would be – in fact, I am still a little worried that I put my on spin on some of it. See, I heard what he said and I tried to write it as verbatim as I could but in the recall it was hard to be absolutely sure I was quoting him accurately. He said this but he did he mean it like this or maybe this way… those were thoughts as I wrote out the post.

The bottom line is that it is unfair to be angry or to even judge a reporter because he or she prints a story that you don’t agree with. As long as it is accurate the desired task was accomplished. Their job is to report. My job is to follow the team and support it.

Columns are a different matter. A column is by nature a matter of opinion. The personal spin of the columnist is put on it and there is a big responsibility in that. I stand by what I said about Ray Melcik (and Finebaum); their opinion is of no more value than mine or yours, as long as it based on the same information. To his credit I do believe that Melick does try to be somewhat objective (I don’t believe that about Finebaum). The difference between Melick’s opinion and mine are this: he has a bigger platform from which to speak (for now) and is heard by more people. Opinions are neither right nor wrong but they can be ill-informed and clouded by bias. Maybe as a fan I take criticism to much to heart and ultimately that is why I choose not to read Melick or listen to Finebaum. I know that I certainly don’t mind listening when Alabama is being praised and that may be a little hypocritical but I think it is just part of the human condition; you get farther with praise than you do criticism any day. You can ask my wife if you don’t believe me.

In conclusion, I now believe that I understand the role of a reporter better. Some of us get so emotional and passionate about the football team we are following that a message we perceive as negative sets us off. That should be expected but that should not make us angry at the message bearer.

I also believe that very few of us know Nick Saban. I’ll leave it at that. The history of his time in Tuscaloosa will determine what kind of coach he really is. I’m not sure that I will ever be able to tell you what type of man he is, and so I’ll leave that to the people that know him.

Oh, the joys of the off-season. This is the time of year where there is very little news about football and what little news does come across the wire is blown completely out of proportion. Such was the case last week when a video clip of Nick Saban becoming agitated with a reporter when questioned about the math involved in athletes currently on scholarship, incoming recruits promised scholarships and the NCAA limit of 85 total scholarships. The video ran on ESPN and a flurry of talk radio and blog pundits sprang into action to cover every possible angle of the event; what it means to the Alabama Program, college football at large, the sagging national economy, and the recent rise in gas prices.

At the center of the Saban “Press Conference Rant” storm last week was Birmingham News, Alabama Beat Reporter Ian Rapoport. He was the reporter that asked the question that made the news and I could think of no one better to ask about the event (and Saban refused to take my calls). Ian was gracious enough to spend about thirty minutes on the phone with me and answer a few questions about himself, Nick Saban and the actual event. His answers, specifically about Saban, were well thought out, thought provoking, and in some instances surprising.

Ian told me that he was from Westchester County, New York, “about thirty minutes from New York City.” Ian went to Columbia and has worked as a beat reporter for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, covering Mississippi State. He is in his second year covering Alabama and seems to have embraced the South by adopting our passion for college football as his own. He claimed to love baseball but also stated that growing up, he never really pulled for a college football team because nobody else around him did. He also indicated that he would never have realized how great our favorite sport is unless he had come to the region and assured me football was now his favorite sport to cover, “without question.” He has grown to love it so much that on Fall Saturdays when his work is completed one of his favorite things to do is sit and watch college football on television.

I wanted to know how his experience as a reporter differed from my experience as a fan. Ian told me that he attends every game, practice, and any other opportunity for any nugget of news about Alabama. Say what you want to about him, but he gets paid to do what a large portion of fans would love to do but he certainly has a different perspective on things related to Alabama than I do, but that’s for another day.

When I asked Ian about the perception of Alabama fans as conspiracy theorist he replied, “all sports fans are conspiracy theorists.”

Now that we had talked a little bit I thought that it might be time to get to some of the real meat and I wanted to grill him about the obvious media agenda and bias. I tried to stage my question, “As someone who covers Alabama exclusively, you have been called everything from “homer” to an idiot. Do you have an agenda?”

His quick reply shocked me.

“Yes”

I have him now, I thought, this is where we find out how bad he wants to paint Saban as a maniacal tyrant.

“My agenda is to supply readers, accurately and fairly – regardless of loyalty – with the facts, content, and stories about Alabama athletics. Basically let the readers know everything there is to know.”

Well, that wasn’t what I expected but if he wasn’t putting an angle on it, surely someone was.

“What about other reporters?” I asked him.

“I try to focus on what I do,” he replied.

“So there is a bias out there.” Now I’ve got him.

“I don’t think so. Let me clarify. I focus on what I do and don’t try to worry with what others do but I don’t think there is anyone who is doing this with a bias.”

When we discussed the mass media outlets, he made the, what he called “the obvious statement”, that the big outlets focused on the bigger names and more successful teams. He did say that he thought Alabama was receiving much more attention now that Saban was here.

The focus of our conversation then shifted to Nick Saban. When I asked Ian if he thought Saban was rude to reporters or him specifically, he had this to say.

“I don’t really focus on his personality. Sometimes he sounds loud because he is being loud but I’m not focusing in on that. I’m thinking about the follow up question, not the tone he is talking in. I will say this; it’s a shame that people judge him based only what they see of him on television, because there is more to him than that and no one should be judged based solely on what the say in front of the camera. That’s not really who he is.”

I told Ian that in my opinion he had become kind of a lightning rod – that a lot of Saban’s zingers seemed to be directed at him. Ian agreed with that and when I pressed him about whether or not he cultivates that image he told me that he was just trying to ask good questions, “ I’m trying to get the most information I can because that’s my job.”

In my opinion, Ian had to know that Saban did not want to answer “the question” and it had to be tough just ask it knowing what kind of response he was going to get. Ian disagreed.

“I never try to think what the answer is going to be. That’s why I ask the question. With Saban you never know how he will respond but he always does respond. He gives very intelligent answers. He is really a good interview – so was Sylvester Croom. Their answers are very intelligent.”

When I asked him, if in his opinion, Saban cared about success or the players, he told me that “everything he does is to win but he is also all about building relationships, with the players now, with future players, and with past players.” Ian said that from his experience the past players really feel more welcome now and that is a credit to Saban. He also told me that Saban spends time in the press room talking with the reporters, building relationships with them. He was very clear in his belief that Nick Saban cares a great deal about his players and as an example told of the genuine remorse he showed when talking about Tremayne Cooger’s decision to leave the program and in the manner that he did it – before the end of the school term.

Ian told me that he really believed that Saban likes Tuscaloosa and appreciates the town. As does his wife and that helps the situation. He was certain that he is content with the job because he could have gone literally anywhere – citing Nebraska if he had wanted to wait a year.

When we discussed “the question”, Ian told me that, there again, the taped segment didn’t show the whole story. Ian insists that Saban had a crack of a grin as he was going through his answer and also that he was joking after he left the podium. He also indicated that because of his belief that Saban really does care about his players that the answer to “the question” must be very complex. He said otherwise he would have just given a quick answer but out of caring about the outcome he seems to be troubled by it and that is what Ian took away from the encounter.

To end on a good note, I asked Ian a few “no brainers” and even then he surprised me.

“Who has the better looking girls, Auburn or Alabama?”

“That’s easy,” he replied. “Mississippi State” He then explained that his girlfriend attended school there.

He refused to comment on Clay Travis’ “Hope Scholarship” theory and while admitting that he was going to Athens next weekend, which would give him a great opportunity to answer with authority, stated that he would still have no comment. I’m pretty sure that goes back to the girlfriend.

Ian had been really professional all through the process – refusing to comment on the supposition that Saban asked Gentry Estes to remove a recent blog entry, only stating that he would take Genrty’s comments at face value – so I was surprised when he took my offer to confirm or deny my claim that Ray Melick is an “ill-informed, verbal-diarrhea-spewing, douche bag.”

“Deny,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for Ray’s integrity and skill as a columnist.”

I got him to answer one final question: “Does Nick Saban indeed hold the key to the Fourth Circle of Hell?”

“It’s been a long time since I read Dante’s Inferno.”

[Editor's Note: I do not intend this blog to be a typical journalistic outlet. By that I mean, I don't anticipate interviews being a staple of what goes on here. However, I have been amazed at the coverage and opinions this incident has generated. I tried to be as truthful as I could with Ian's anwsers and comments. I greatly appreciate his time and trust in me, a virtually unknown blogger. I did not want to cloud his comments with my opinions, and therefor part 2 will be my appraisal on what Ian had to say. Look for it Tuesday or Wednesday. PMR]

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.

You know what I thought about A-Day? I’ll tell you: It was A-Day.

It’s a glorified scrimmage and it’s just hard to say anything definitive. Some guys looked good and some looked bad. I bleleive that we didn’t see a whole lot of the offense and that was really the mian thing I was hoping for. My belief that the fans witnessed a vanilla package was backed up by comments that Nick Saban and some of the other players made.

I decided that my four-year-old would get his first taste of Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday. It was neat from the standpoint that he was predictably amazed but since he wanted a drink form about the moment our backsides hit our chairs and we left at half time, I just didn’t get to concentrate on football. The best moment of the day came when my son -who was rocking his #34 crimson jersey that no longer has the numbers on the front- looked up and me and said, “I’m gonna play football down there one day Daddy.” I almost cried. The sad fact is that he is cursed with my genes so that eventuality is doubtful, but you know reality never stopped me from wanting something, from playing for Coach Bryant to dating Elle McPherson. If your gonna dream kid, dream big.

Random thought ans links:

  • Gerry Dorsey sums up my sentiments about A-Day. I go to the game because it’s a chance to see a little football five months before actual football, but if I had to drive more than 15 minutes I wouldn’t do it.
  • Saban moves well for an older man rocking loafers.
  • For the first time in I don’t know when, I was in front of the television for every hole of the Masters. I did take a couple of quick naps but all in all, a great day on the couch. I did find myself rooting for Tiger after the 70′ putt on No. 11- just to make it interesting – but I believe that Immelman deserved the win. The cool thing was that when I was at the practice round on Monday, I got to watch him and Gary Player play the 16th. They walked within 6′ of me and at the time I had no idea I was watching the future champion.
  • Your Monday Football Haiku (which has been absent for the last few weeks, sorry).

Spring satisfies not

The yearning for real football

Hurry blessed fall

Have a great week!

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