Saban the mastermind: Public spat over player discipline went exactly as Alabama coach planned; Punt, Pass & Pork
Nick Saban had the speech cued up. The Alabama coach would have delivered it in the big room Wednesday at SEC Media Days had someone bothered to ask about how he's choosing to discipline offensive tackle Cam Robinson and safety Hootie Jones following their arrests in their hometown of Monroe, La., on May 17. But no one asked.
So when the SEC Network's Paul Finebaum told Saban it was a "bad look" that Robinson and Jones might not miss any playing time, Saban already had his answers—and annoyance that was probably mostly real—at the ready. Those were his talking points for last week's SEC Media Days. He was just waiting for the question.
If you think Saban, later caught on video having two separate animated conversations with Finebaum, lost control, then you haven't been watching him very long. All of it was calculated, as is almost anything Saban does when a camera is trained on him. Yes, he is a control freak. He'll admit as much. Yes, he believes he's correct whenever he's challenged by a media member or anyone else. He may not admit that, but it's fairly obvious. But Saban wasn't talking to Finebaum or to the viewers of the segment. Every reason Saban gave to explain why Robinson and Jones could miss no playing time was a message to players and recruits. The fact that the clip has received so much attention only played into Saban's hands. When they speak to recruits now, Alabama assistants can point to that segment and ask the following: Do you see how much coach has his players' backs? As it turns out, Saban, Finebaum and Finebaum's employer all got exactly what each wanted out of that particular bit of theater.
Saban wanted that question from Finebaum—or someone—so he could raise questions about the legitimacy of the arrests, which came after a Monroe, La., officer smelled marijuana and approached a parked car containing Robinson, Jones and two other men. Jones had a gun in his lap. (It is legal in Louisiana for anyone above the age of 17 to openly carry a firearm, a fact the players' attorneys would have used in court.) After the first officer on the scene called for backup, police discovered a gun beneath the driver's seat occupied by Robinson. That gun had been reported stolen. Police also found a small amount of marijuana. Robinson and Jones were arrested. The other two men were not. Saban implied they were arrested because they were Alabama football players.
Saban probably wanted that information out there in part because when Ouachita Parish district attorney Jerry Jones announced in June that he would not prosecute Robinson or Jones, this was the quote everyone noticed:
"I want to emphasize once again that the main reason I'm doing this is that I refuse to ruin the lives of two young men who have spent their adolescence and teenage years, working and sweating, while we were all in the air conditioning," Jones told KNOE-TV*.
Jones also mentioned that he'd have a difficult time winning the case, but that more reasonable—and true—explanation didn't capture the headlines. The quote that did generate all the interest made it sound as if Robinson and Jones were getting special treatment.
*By this logic, anyone who worked as a roofer or landscaper as a teen in Ouachita Parish should be immune from prosecution. Jones might want to choose his words more carefully.
Meanwhile, Finebaum, the SEC Network and ESPN (which owns the SEC Network) also benefitted among their constituents from the exchange. Finebaum morphed from attack-dog columnist to attack-dog radio host, but he won his current platform by morphing again into a ringmaster of sorts who balances informative interviews with wacky callers. Former SEC commissioner Mike Slive had to go to bat for Finebaum with various school presidents to get them to sign off on the hire. With his line of questioning to Saban, Finebaum got to return to his days as a provocateur. The SEC Network, meanwhile, got a credibility booster shot. It's only natural to assume that the network would be a shill for the league, but asking tough questions of the conference's most successful—and most powerful—football coach is not the act of a shill. ESPN, meanwhile, benefitted from a surplus of content. That exchange made its own gravy, creating hours of content on the SEC Network, ESPN and various other ESPN platforms.
As a result of all this, we got treated to the most SEC quote in recent history. Saban insinuated the players were arrested because the responding officers were LSU fans. Monroe police public information officer Chris Bates declared that at least one of the officers was not in an interview with Glenn Guilbeau of Gannett Louisiana on Wednesday. "I can tell you for a fact that the first officer on the scene is not an LSU fan," Bates told Guilbeau. "He hates LSU. He doesn't like the color yellow or purple and gold. In fact, he's a Florida fan. If you mention LSU around him, he throws up in his mouth. Most of our officers are LSU fans, but we have some who are Arkansas fans and Georgia fans and Alabama fans. And I'll tell you this, the first officer did not even know those guys were players."
Though it doesn't seem like Saban intends to suspend Robinson or Jones, the question remains as to whether he should. They have faced internal sanctions, according to court documents obtained by KNOE-TV. Both face weekly drug tests. Both have had to attend drug counseling. Both have had to meet with a Tuscaloosa police officer for gun safety education courses. Both had to complete 20 hours of community service. Robinson spent at least 26 hours riding along with Northport, Ala., police. Jones went to a 21-day rehab.
One person who would advocate for the players missing time was 2010-vintage Nick Saban. In an interview at the American Football Coaches Association convention in January 2010, Saban discussed why he believed taking away playing time was the most significant punishment he could hand down. He compared it to doling out discipline as a parent. Playing time means the most to the players, so the possibility of losing it is a powerful incentive. "The way I've always approached punishment is that it has to be something significant to that particular player," Saban said. "It's just like my daughter. If you take her car keys and her laptop and her telephone that she talks on all the time ... you can get the dishes washed, the room cleaned up, the car washed—anything you want. That's what works with her. Is that punishment? It's certainly not something that's abusive, but it does change her behavior."
Last week, Saban contended that suspending players from games months after they've made mistakes and served internal punishment would not be an effective way of changing behavior. The debate between the 2016 and 2010 versions of Saban would be fascinating.
My suspicion is that the luckiest person in all this is Jones, who might have faced harsher punishment had he not been with Robinson, the cornerstone left tackle who should go in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft. Robinson is the only guaranteed star on the offensive line for the defending national champs. Without him, the Crimson Tide would head into a season-opening matchup against USC with a first-time starting quarterback and question marks along the line. This is probably especially true after guard Alphonse Taylor, who started every game for the Crimson Tide last season, was arrested Sunday in Tuscaloosa on suspicion of driving under the influence. During spring practice, Saban said Taylor was at risk of being demoted to the second team because of his weight. Now Saban will have to decide whether Robinson, Jones or Taylor should miss playing time. Though the situations are different, Saban will face even more questions if he suspends Taylor and not the other two. Of course, Saban will get just as many questions if all three play against USC.
We should get more of a window into Saban's thinking on Tuesday when he appears in studio on—you guessed it—the Paul Finebaum Show.
A random ranking
The release of the Ghostbusters reboot got me thinking about Ray Parker Jr.'s theme song from the original. (Or maybe it's Huey Lewis's song, considering Parker settled a lawsuit in 1995 that claimed Ghostbusters is a rip-off of I Want a New Drug.) Here are the top 10 movie soundtrack songs that were written for the movie in the name*.
1. Help! — The Beatles
2. Purple Rain — Prince
3. Diamonds Are Forever — Shirley Bassey
4. He Got Game — Public Enemy and Stephen Stills
5. Footloose — Kenny Loggins
6. St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion) — John Parr
7. Superfly — Curtis Mayfield
8. Theme from Shaft — Isaac Hayes
9. A View To A Kill — Duran Duran
10. Weird Science — Oingo Boingo
* That's why you won't see Man On The Moon on this list. The REM song came out in 1992. It was about Andy Kaufman, and it helped inspire the 1999 Kaufman biopic of the same name. But it wasn't recorded specifically for the movie.
1. The New York Times reported that Baylor never received a written report from law firm Pepper Hamilton from the investigation that resulted in the firing of football coach Art Briles and the eventual departures of chancellor Ken Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw. The reason for this is obvious. A written report given to a 34-member board of regents inevitably would have leaked. An oral report given by attorneys hired by the board would be protected by attorney-client privilege. Given how bad the 13-page sanitized version released by the board was, a full written compendium of everything the investigation found would have contained some incredibly damaging information.
This is not to say Baylor's board should have handled this situation this way. Full transparency would allow Baylor's constituents to examine what happened and then compare that to the steps Baylor has taken to correct the problems. But Baylor's board seems determined to keep some things secret.
2. Why would athletic director Mack Rhoades leave Missouri to take over a messy situation at Baylor? It's not such a strange decision when examined a little closer. As a private school, Baylor doesn't have to disclose how much it is paying Rhoades, but we can safely assume it's more than Missouri paid him. (Especially considering he had to pay more to buy out of his contract than he actually earned working at Missouri.)
Meanwhile, Rhoades gets to be the guy who helps bring Baylor out of the wreckage of a sexual assault scandal. He'll have plenty of time because he inherited a difficult situation. Also, as awful as what happened at Baylor was, there is a road map to improve the situation. Athletic departments have overcome scandals before.
The situation at Missouri may have been trickier in some ways. The threatened boycott by the football team last year exposed a number of issues for which there is no AD instruction manual. Baylor won't be an easy job, but Rhoades will make more money while facing a more predictable situation.
3. Michael Jordan will serve as the honorary captain at Michigan's season opener against Hawaii. Nike is taking over Michigan's apparel deal this year, and Michigan's uniforms will be designed by Nike's Jordan brand.
4. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly, who started his college career at Clemson, threw some shade at his former school while discussing his excitement about playing at LSU for the first time.
5. Trent Domingue won't be LSU's kicker when Kelly and the Rebels arrive in Baton Rouge. Domingue, a former walk-on and a 2015 Lou Groza Award semifinalist, announced this week that his scholarship was not renewed for this season. Domingue has graduated from LSU and can play immediately elsewhere.
6. Oregon tailback Royce Freeman does not respond to requests for mercy, even from pirate kings. (And yes, I remember that Washington State beat Oregon last year.)
7. Speaking of Mike Leach, ESPN.com's Chantel Jennings reimagined Leach's Pac-12 Media Days answers in Haiku form.
8. Christian McCaffrey, big fan of Yelling Stanford Guy.
9. Mark Richt has brought his annual high dive tradition to Miami.
10. Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight nailed his Dude Perfect audition.
What's eating Andy?
Montrell Jackson, one of the police officers murdered Sunday in Baton Rouge, was the nephew of former Michigan coach Fred Jackson. On July 8, Montrell Jackson posted a message on Facebook that every person in this country should read.
What's Andy eating?
Somewhere between Selma and Tuscaloosa, we always found a stand. I never could figure out where we were going because the two-lane roads all looked the same, but my mom and her sister had traveled that route hundreds of times from home to college. They knew the way, and they knew where to find those old wooden sheds that held tables covered with baskets. When my mom and I came to visit her hometown every summer, we'd usually visit the home of her alma mater because it had a bigger mall than Selma but less traffic than Montgomery. I got a few packs of baseball cards if I behaved while the ladies shopped, but a Mackey Sasser Rated Rookie card wasn't the main objective. I was there to eat peaches on the way back.
I laugh every time I see a sign that proclaims Georgia as the Peach State, because no one who has eaten a Chilton County peach would ever believe such an absurd boast. Softball-sized globes of yellow and red when picked in peak season, Chilton County peaches remain the ultimate summer snack. Under that fuzz is a dessert-sweet flesh that stays firm even though the thing feels as if it packs enough juice to fill a glass. Only a fool—or someone moments away from jumping into a creek—would eat one without a roll of paper towels handy.
On the way back from Tuscaloosa, we'd buy several baskets. The idea was that we'd have some to take home to Florida with us. Thanks to me, only a few ever made it across the border.
Because Chilton County peaches are the finest peach on earth, I will eat them plain. I will eat them as jam. I will eat them in a pie. I will eat it them in a cobbler. I will eat them as ice cream*. And after visiting Birmingham's Slice last week, I now know I can eat them on a pizza.
*Peach Park in Clanton, Ala., sells all these items. I have been known to skip the airport and drive to SEC Media Days so I could buy 20 pounds of peaches to bring home. Of course, I never could get out of the place without also eating jam, pie, cobbler and ice cream.
The Slice menu looked intriguing even before I reached the bottom and saw that the chef had built a pie around my favorite fruit. Had I not answered its siren call, I would have loved to try the following:
- Soul Pie: Turnip greens, black-eyed peas, Conecuh sausage, grilled red onion, bacon, pepper jack and cheddar
- Mexicali: Braised lamb, tomatillo sauce, pepper jack, queso fresco, arugula, jalapeno, cherry tomatoes, shaved onion and avocado crema
But I couldn't resist The Chilton. Slices of peaches rest alongside smoked pork shoulder, arugula, shaved red onion and aged gouda under a balsamic drizzle. This could have been a disaster without the proper crust, but Slice gets its oven hot enough to produce a bed for even the heaviest topping load. The crust is thick enough to offer some resistance to the teeth, but the outside is crispy enough to provide an exoskeleton strong enough to hold the peaches and huge hunks of pork without getting soggy. Those who typically get their salty-sweet fix from ham and pineapple might be surprised by the flavor balance. The pork shoulder is less salty than ham. The peach chunks are sweeter than pineapple. But the pork and the gouda provide a smoky foil for the peaches, and the balsamic adds just enough tang.
Slice wasn't done with my tour of the summer produce section, though. After the pizza, I ordered a slice of blackberry cheesecake. A sweet-but-tart berry might be the perfect addition to a cheesecake. The cream cheese can mellow the most extreme flavors, and the result is a rich bite that still explodes on the taste buds. Of course, had Slice made cheesecake with Chilton County peaches, I'd have skipped right past the blackberry and ordered an entire cake to take home.