This week’s brouhaha surrounding Alabama’s coach, Nick Saban, has to do with his decision to start and play Tua Tagovailoa in a meaningless game against The Citadel, a team that has already lost to Wofford, UT Chattanooga, Towson, East Tennessee State, and Furman. Tua is injured. He’s the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore. He will likely be the top draft pick whenever he decides to enter the draft.
There are arguments to be made on both sides. We’ve seen players of great promise (Robert Griffin III) whose careers have been upended by injuries aggravated by playing when not fully recovered. On the other hand, coaches believe the team’s morale is undermined when a star gets to sit out; everyone is playing with injuries, they’d say. Holding out a star player essentially admits that the upcoming game is hardly worth playing, demeaning the opposing team.
Cut to the chase – The Citadel already knows they are lambs about to be slaughtered; it’s not news to them. Tua’s teammates know that he is special, special enough to be essential in their bid for a national championship. What’s worse for morale? Sitting Tua or carrying him off the field?
What rankles this week, as it does with every Saban press conference, is the condescending arrogance with which Sabin meets questions from reporters who cover his team. He is the most successful college football coach of this era without doubt. He is adored by Crimson Tide fans; there is a statue of Saban outside Bryant-Denny Stadium. The venue was built in the 1920’s and was named in honor of Alabama’s president, George H. Denny, but then the universe righted itself, football took its proper place as the heart of Alabama’s cultural life, and famed coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant’s name was added in 1975. Bryant racked up 323 wins in his career; Saban has 228 but is tied with Bryant for most national championships. He makes eight million dollars a year in salary and another three to four million in assorted other football related enterprises.
Life is good for Nick Saban.
He does have to deal with idiotic questions about “his” team, but that gives him the opportunity to grouse from the podium about how little fan support Alabama gets at home games, not-very-patiently-putting up with reporters, the developmentally challenged serfs somehow able to get past the moat at Castle Saban. And, it gives a place of prominence to the sixteen ounce unopened bottle of Coca Cola placed at this right hand.
I am stunned by his shameless shilling for Coca Cola, placing that full bottle on the lectern, label prominently facing cameras, a silent nod to the income streams that swell the Saban bankroll while hapless reporters wither under his thinly veiled contempt. He’s arrogant, but many of the most successful coaches are; they live in the football bubble, protected by boosters and fans. As the dreadful and sad end of Joe Paterno’s career with Penn State proved, even the most despicable acts cannot dissuade the true believers from canonizing coaches.
He’s got a statue too.
At least “Joe Pa” didn’t act as a huckster for Klynveld Peat Marwick Goesdeler (KPMG) the auditing firm based in the Netherlands, Rolex, Workday, Inc., Callaway, Mizzen + Main (performance menswear). That’s Phil Mickelson, professional golfer and billboard. Saban’s brand of product placement is more subtle (!) in that he doesn’t wear the logo on his hat, jacket, shirt, and shoes, but … really?
I confess I may have forgiven some excesses on the part of coaches I like. ..
Actually, no, I haven’t, because my teams are coached by coaches rather than corporate robots, coaches who understand that they have a special relationship with the fans (and reporters) who give themselves heart and soul to the sports we love.
Alabama will probably roll again, with or without Tua Tagovailoa, Nick Saban will probably emerge triumphant one more time, and I ‘ll probably sit alone and friendless, wearing a Michigan Rose Bowl shirt (2008 – USC, L 18-32), eating Doritos and drinking Pepsi.