You know what this job teaches me, consistently? Sometimes you're better off not talking to the people involved. All they do is confuse you.
Case in point: Nick Saban. Two weeks ago, I reported on NBC that I gave Saban two chances to say he would be back with the Dolphins in 2007 and not take a college job, and he wouldn't say he'd definitely be back. I thought it was news. NBC thought it was news. We aired it.
The next day, Miami's PR man, Harvey Greene, called to say Saban was not pleased with the report and would like to speak with me. So we spoke. "I wish I'd known you were going to say that,'' Saban said. "I would definitely have not left you with that impression.'' He went on to say in no uncertain terms he wasn't going anywhere, and the only way he wouldn't be back was if he got fired or, after sitting down with his wife at the end of the year, there was some family reason to not return.
Well, whatever the outcome of the Saban story with Miami and Alabama -- and as of midday Tuesday it looks like he's a goner -- the moral of the story is it's senseless to believe coaches in the middle of the season when you ask about their future.
I've got an idea for future conversations with coaches as the end of the season approaches. It comes from a talk I had last week with a current NFL head coach who I thought might be interested in moving on at the end of the year. I asked this coach if he could tell me categorically if he was bound to his team next year, or whether he might try to move to another team or get out of the game for a year or two.
Deep Coach answered the question the way I wish all of them would.
"Sorry I can't help you,'' he said. "I just don't talk about my contract. Ever.''
Great! Don't lie, don't tell. That should be the policy of every coach.
On with your e-mail. Since I took last Tuesday's column off, I'll lead with some of your missives on the Christmas column of our favorite soldier, Mike McGuire.
THEY LIKE MIKE. From Gary Crawford of San Diego: "As an active duty U.S. Marine, I just wanted to say thanks for telling the story of Sgt. McGuire. Your objective look at what is going on overseas, without any biased opinions of the war, is really refreshing. There are thousands of men and women doing great work just like Mike and his unit, and I think your column really reflects that. Thanks again for telling it like it is and showing the American people how well our brave men and women of all the armed forces are serving them proudly.''
CANADA LIKES MIKE. From Ed of Calgary: "Two words: Thank you. Reading your story on Sgt. McGuire once again put life into perspective.''
A VET LIKES MIKE. From Corey McArthur of Queens, N.Y.: "I am a veteran and your writing touched me in a profound way. You could have been talking about anyone of us who have been in that situation. Please tell Sgt. McGuire the only thing that helped me with the bad dreams is for the last half hour before I go to bed I focus on all the good things in my life. That can get me three or four good hours.''
GOOD QUESTION FROM A COWBOYS FAN. From Robert Ferguson of Stanfield, Ore.: "With respect to the Cowboys, I think their problems start every April. If you examine just the first-round (Terence Newman, Demarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Bobby Carpenter) and second-round (Al Johnson, Jacob Rogers, Julius Jones, Kevin Burnett, Anthony Fasano) picks during Bill Parcells' tenure, it would appear they have not gotten the productivity you would expect from those picks. By the way, your 2006 selections for Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year were both available when Dallas drafted in the first round, and were both positions of need.''
Hmmmm. Marcus McNeill and DeMeco Ryans. You're right. Both could have helped loads, particularly McNeill. The only one of those first-rounders you might want to quibble with -- and it's early -- is Carpenter, because I thought he'd be a better run-stopper early on. Newman and Ware are good, contributing players.
WHO WILL THE CARDS HIRE? From Brendhan of Austin, Texas: "With Dennis Green being fired, who do you see as a legitimate successor in Arizona? Pete Carroll seems logical from the college ranks. Maybe Mike Martz from the pros to utilize the offensive weaponry? Also wanted to mention I thought it was great you started with the Darrent Williams item in your Monday column. Some things supercede football and that was absolutely one of them.''
Watch for three offensive coordinators -- Norm Chow, Ken Whisenhunt and Cam Cameron.
I THINK YOU'RE WRONG, JAY. From Jay Carster of Anaheim, Calif.: "Regarding your comment on Mike Vick's weak endorsement on the coach, it seems that you are questioning Vick's loyalty. But isn't he returning the favor when Mora didn't show any loyalty to Vick by stating he would leave for his 'dream job' regardless of his situation in Atlanta?''
No coach could be more loyal and supportive to his quarterback than Mora has been to Vick. No one. Consistently, even when he looked idiotic doing it, Mora has said there's no other quarterback he'd rather coach than Vick.
THE MERRIMAN ISSUE. From Matt of Boston: "Your rationale for selecting Shawne Merriman for your All-Pro team is simply wrong. You say that you don't take 'off-field stuff' into account, and fine -- I don't think you should. But steroid use is about Merriman's body; that's on-field stuff. It's perfectly reasonable for you to leave him off your all-pro team for his drug violation, and I think you should have.''
Good point. In my opinion, if he's on the field in football, I judge what he does on the field.
OGDEN DOESN'T GET HIS DUE. From Brett of Los Angeles: "Once again, the best left tackle of the past ten years is ignored. Jonathan Ogden is having perhaps his best season and he does not make your All-Pro team? Ask Shaun Merriman, whom Ogden completely shut down and dominated earlier this year, if Ogden is not the best tackle in the game. Same can be said for Joey Porter. For most years, the Ravens' offensive line has been Ogden and four other average players. Yet, because he is a quiet guy who plays in Baltimore, he doesn't get the same pub as Walter Jones or Willie Anderson. He is a first-ballot sure-fire Hall of Famer and still does not get the respect he deserves.''
I respect Ogden a lot, and I think he will certainly be a deserving Hall candidate someday. But I don't think you can call this his best season, when he missed two games with a turf toe. Merriman had a sack in the game at Baltimore, by the way. Not sure if it came against Ogden or not. And I hardly think Ogden has been overlooked. He's made the Pro Bowl 10 years in a row.
WAIT A MINUTE! I THOUGHT I SLIGHTED THE RAVENS! From Dave of Baltimore: "Thanks for all the Ravens on your All-Pro team. Most of the national media ignore Baltimore. But onto your MVP. I just can't hold it in any longer. You are letting your emotions dictate who you vote for. Yes, Drew Brees is having a great year, but so are 20 guys in the NFL. LaDainian Tomlinson is having the best year any offensive player ever had, and he accounts for over 50 percent of his team's touchdowns. That is ridiculous. He is really the best player on the best team in football. The Saints are playing very well in a clearly weak conference. Who have they beaten that is as good as the teams that the Chargers have beaten? That great game Brees had in Dallas? Seems as if everyone is beating up Dallas' secondary. I beg you, please be a journalist and be impartial. Brees and New Orleans is a nice Disney story, but LT is clearly the league MVP. Take him off of San Diego and they are not even close to where they are now.''
All valid points, and I appreciate every one of them. But let's take your last point, about value. The Chargers finished 14-2, New Orleans 10-6. Let's take Brees off the Saints and Tomlinson off the Chargers. Then you'd have Michael Turner running for San Diego and Jamie Martin quarterbacking New Orleans. This is one of my points on this issue that means the most. The Saints would be a 5-11 team without Brees, in my opinion. Maybe worse. And in my opinion, the Chargers would be a playoff team without Tomlinson. Maybe a 10-win team, but a playoff team.
SHORT AND SWEET. From Jeff Halsey of Syracuse, N.Y.: "Is Champ Bailey the best cornerback of all time?''