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Nick Saban Shows Lack Of Character In Postgame Interview With ESPN's Maria Taylor

Nick Saban has a history of putting his foot in his mouth; his postgame interview with Maria Taylor was simply the latest example

November 01, 2018 - 5:45 pm

Nick Saban wasn’t very happy Saturday night after Alabama opened his 12th season as coach of the Crimson Tide with a 51-14 victory over Louisville.
         
The Cardinals aren’t the same team they were the past two seasons when Lamar Jackson was the quarterback, but they aren’t a walkover game either. Alabama won by 37.
         
Saban wasn’t satisfied. Too many penalties; too many mistakes; his team better play better when they get to big games later in the season.
         
Okay fine, coaches who have won six national titles tend to be perfectionists. It’s part of the reason why they win so often. Great players are a bigger reason, but that’s a different story for a different day.
         
But then there was Saban’s postgame TV interview with ESPN’s Maria Taylor. There are few things in the world more banal than TV postgame interviews with the possible exception of TV halftime interviews.
         
Throughout the offseason, the question of who will be Alabama’s quarterback this season when those big games roll around, has been asked—and not answered—repeatedly. It became an issue last January when Saban benched two-year starter Jalen Hurts at halftime of the national title game with his team trailing Georgia, 13-0. Freshman Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench and led Alabama to a 26-23 overtime victory, capped by a 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith for a walk-off win.
         
Tagovailoa started the Louisville game, got a majority of the snaps and played well. Hurts also played. And so, Taylor’s first question was predictable: “Coach, what do you think you learned about your two quarterbacks tonight?”
         
It was the only question that mattered and it was phrased as benignly as possible. Not benignly enough for Saban.
         
“Well, I still like both guys,” he began.
         
So far so good.
         
“Both guys are good players. I think both can can help our team…”
         
If he had stopped there, he would have given a perfect non-answer. Only he didn’t stop.
         
Without pausing for breath after, “can help our team,” he added, “All right? So why do you keep trying to get me to say something that doesn’t respect one of them. I’m not going to, so quit asking.”
         
Huh?
         
Taylor in no way asked Saban to disrespect either player and no one would have batted an eye if Saban had stopped after, “can help our team.” But control freaks have to let the world know they’re in control and most big-time football and basketball are control freaks. (Which is why it’s funny when they say they knew nothing about the actions of a wayward assistant coach).
         
Saban’s mini-meltdown was instantly picked up on social media with many people calling him rude—which he was—and others wondering what the heck he was so uptight about. The answer to the second question is simple: he’s Nick Saban. He’s uptight from the minute he wakes up until the minute he goes to sleep and then probably dreams angry dreams.
         
Saban is many things, but dumb isn’t one of them. Hearing and seeing the reaction to his rudeness, he called Taylor and apologized to her. He followed up by announcing the next day that he had called Taylor and then said this: “ If I get asked to vilify a player and make another a crown prince publicly, I need to learn of a better way to answer that in future.”
         
Again: huh?
         
Saban couldn’t simply say his answer was over-the-top or even say he’s uptight because he was going to have to name one (Tagovailoa as of this Saturday) the starter sooner or later. It still had to go back to Taylor’s question somehow being the culprit.
         
As soon as he apologized, many in the media jumped in to say it was really big of Saban to apologize. It was? I always go back to what Dean Smith said all those years ago on the subject of an issue slightly more important than choosing a starting quarterback (helping to desegregrate restaurants in Chapel Hill).
         
“You should never be proud of doing the right thing; you should just do the right thing.”
         
So, after doing something clearly wrong, Saban apologized—to someone working at the network that more or less controls college football; a network that spent most of August glorifying Saban and Alabama in a four-part series titled, “Training Days—Rolling with the Tide.”
         
So, Saban apologized—sort of—to someone working for a network that helps solidify Saban’s status as an icon. Wow. What a guy.
         
Let’s remember a few things about Saban. On December 21, 2006, when he was coaching the Miami Dolphins, he was asked about persistent rumors that he was going to be Alabama’s next coach. “I guess I have to say it,” he said. “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.”
         
Thirteen days later he was the Alabama coach.
         
Saban’s not the first coach or the last to waffle about ongoing contract negotiations for another job. Most don’t flat out lie—although Saban’s not unique in that sense either.
         
Saban’s first season at Alabama was a bit rocky. After a 6-2 start, the Tide lost four in a row. The third of those losses was to Louisiana-Monroe, an embarrassing defeat—to put it mildly.
         
Two days after that loss, with his team preparing to play arch-rival Auburn, Saban talked about the loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
          
“Changes in history usually occur after some catastrophic event,” he said. “It may be 9-11 sort of changed the spirit of America relative to catastrophic events. Pearl Harbor kind of got us ready for World War II and that was a catastrophic event.”
         
So, Pearl Harbor was preparation for World War II and losing to Louisiana-Monroe was good prep for Auburn. And 9-11 changed America’s spirit in much the same way Saban hoped losing to Louisiana-Monroe would change Alabama’s spirit.
         
An Alabama spokesman later explained that Saban WASN’T comparing 9-11 or Pearl Harbor to losing a football game. Except he apparently saw all three as "catastrophic events."
         
Alabama lost to Auburn for a sixth straight time so Louisiana-Monroe wasn’t the prep Saban had hoped it would be. But the Tide was 12-2 a year later and in 2009 went 14-0 and won the first of the five national titles Saban has won in Tuscaloosa.
          
That’s why there’s a statue of him outside Bryant-Denny Stadium. You can bet the family of George Denny, the former university president for whom the stadium was first named in 1929, has to be awfully nervous that President Denny’s name will end up someday on a locker room or a hallway after the place is rechristened Bryant-Saban Stadium.
         
I saw a comment on Twitter on Monday from a Saban defender saying, “He’s paid to win football games, not to be polite.”
         
I hadn’t realized the two were mutually exclusive. In fact, the best of the best that I’ve been fortunate enough to know—Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, John Wooden to name three—went out of their way to be polite to people—whether they knew them or not; whether they were important or not.
        
I’m sure there are plenty of people who can tell stories about Saban being charming or kind. I can tell you similar stories about Bob Knight.
         
There’s an old saying: “Adversity reveals character.”
         
Sometimes it just takes a simple question.
 
 
John Feinstein’s new novel, “The Prodigy,” about a 17-year-old who has a chance to win the Masters, is now in bookstores and available online. His next non-fiction book, “Quarterback,”—which is about the pressure of playing the position in the NFL—will be out in November.