Saban makes effort to counteract negative perception
Posted: Friday April 13, 2007 12:48AM; Updated: Friday April 13, 2007 3:22PM
Last Monday, I published a column about new Alabama coach Nick Saban that mentioned how he abruptly skipped out on our scheduled interview during my recent visit there. That little nugget was never intended to be the centerpiece of the column. It was part of a larger description of what I observed there -- all of which illustrated a larger point that Saban's "jerkish" ways would ultimately be good for Alabama's long-struggling (and often loosely run) program.
Over the past week, however, the interview snub took on a life of its own. I got calls from radio stations, both in Alabama and elsewhere, wanting to talk about my Saban encounter (or in this case, lack thereof). A competing Web site wrote about it. The Associated Press even mentioned it in a story that crossed the wire Thursday.
Here's the thing. While we media types love to grumble about perceived slights from coaches or other interview subjects, I'm fully aware that 99.9 percent of you, the fans, could not care less how a coach treats the media. Why should you? It's our problem, not yours. In this case, however, both because of what I wrote and the reaction that it generated, a follow-up is in order.
Saban called me a couple of days after the article went up to apologize for what happened. He explained some extenuating circumstances but took full responsibility for what happened. I certainly appreciated the call.
Saban's media dealings have made for popular column fodder in Alabama throughout the spring, and portrayals of Saban's notorious grouchy side date back well before my visit. The media in Miami are still grumbling about him following two years of run-ins. Stories of his tantrums and condescending treatment toward assistants and support staff -- some of which I've heard from first-hand sources -- have been circulating for years.
Both during our conversation and on an SEC coaches teleconference the next day, the polarizing coach stressed that, contrary to common perception, "I want to have a good relationship with the media. I have a lot of respect for what the media does for our program and for our players. I've always had that." He also feels the public's image of him isn't accurate.
Whether Saban is genuinely being contrite, or whether he's merely putting on a good face in order to salvage some bad p.r., I couldn't tell you. Perhaps you can decide for yourself. Below is an abridged transcript of an impromptu phone interview I conducted when he called to apologize. It touches on not only Alabama's spring but his thoughts on the negative perceptions of him and the lofty expectations that come from both a $4 million salary and the nation's most demanding fan base.
SI.com: Having gone through winter conditioning and now [most of] spring practice, what is your assessment of the team you inherited?
Saban: I think we have some areas of the team where we have some players, and some areas where we lack a little bit of depth. That's going to be resolved one of two ways ways, either through recruiting or through identifying in practice what our players can do and [changing some players' positions]. Both the guys we bring in and the guys [who change positions], we're going to have to utilize those players to compensate for the lack of depth we have at certain positions.
Offensively, we have more experience, more depth. We've got a quarterback [junior John Parker Wilson] who's got some experience, a couple decent receivers. We don't have an established runner. Defensively, we're very thin. That's the area of the most concern. Right now we're just getting to know the players, what roles they can play best. It's a work in progress. We're pleased with the way the players are responding to the challenge
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