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Coach Saban vs. Crimson Tide Fans

It seems Coach Saban kicked off a bit of a kerfuffle recently when he made comments about the role the Crimson Tide fanbase played in the successes (or lack therof) of the team. It’s a point he has made repeatedly since his arrival in Tuscaloosa but, as usual, it has been leapt upon as evidence of his nefarious nature.

This all started right after the A-Day game when Ian Rapoport of The Birmingham News reported Saban's comments concerning the importance of fan support particularly in light of the Sugar Bowl.

I want our fans to understand that when they don't have positive passion and energy for what we're trying to accomplish, then it affects everyone. Last year's team was a great example of that... There's very little interest from our fans, our players or anybody else to play in the Sugar Bowl, which to me is a tremendous opportunity. I tried to tell everyone, you're only going to remember one thing about this game and that's the outcome. So there's no interest, there's no passion and everybody is embarrassed because of how we played. Well, it's because you didn't have any passion for it, you didn't have any interest in it, you didn't have any enthusiasm to do it, and that's across the board. And that's not right. We go to a BCS bowl game, everybody ought to be positive and enthusiastic about what we're doing.

Now, Rapoport – one of the better journalists covering the team – explicitly noted Saban wasn’t blaming the fans for the loss against Utah but rather admonishing them to look at the accomplishments the team achieved over the whole of the season.

Of course that part was conveniently forgotten in the wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed.

We’ll get this parade of pathetic going with the writers who saw the incident as Saban trying to shift the blame for the Sugar Bowl loss in the from himself and his coaching staff to another quarter. College Football Talk was particularly nimble climbing atop this sad little soapbox:

While Saban’s tried to clarify that he isn’t just blaming the fans, he’s blaming everyone (including himself), what he’s really doing is further tarnishing a coaching legacy that most thought was immune to an embarrassment like last year’s BCS Bowl. If your team can’t get over a disappointing loss to Florida in a month, and get up for a BCS game against the lone undefeated team in the nation, Saban and the Crimson Tide need to look in the mirror if they’re searching for someone to blame.

The Bleacher Report followed this line of reasoning with an effort up to their usual underwhelming standard:

The fact is that Saban does not or will not give Utah credit for a win, but instead tries to hold onto some type of sense of superiority by saying the team, the fans, and the staff were not into the game.

The Gainsville Sun’s Pat Dooley couldn't resist the bandwagon either:

Now we get it. Now we understand why Alabama laid an egg in the Sugar Bowl against Utah. It was the fans' fault.

FanIQ then went and proved they have none with this awry assessment:

Just when you think Nick Saban couldn't be any bigger of a jackass than he already is, he does something like this. Saban is blaming Alabama fans for his team's brutal loss to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. Yeah, because it had NOTHING to do with you getting thoroughly outcoached and underestimating your opponent, Nick.

It seems making statements like "I'm responsible to have the team ready to play. I don't think we were ready to play." clearly shows a man ducking his responsibility as a coach and blaming the other team and/or fans for the loss. At best these self-appointed pundits were too lazy to read Rapoport's article and present the comments in proper context. At worst they purposefully took them out of context to create controversy. Both are reprehensible.

Next up were those who felt Saban was lashing out at the fanbase for not matching the attendance figures of prior A-Day games. Leading this charge was Track ‘em Tigers who lived up to the lamentable educational standards on the plains with this feeble effort:

But regardless if this is just casual banter from the mouth of the savior, who sometimes drivels on when not on teleprompter, (Whoops! Sorry. Wrong savior) you have to question the timing of it all. You're coming off your second recruiting national championship in a row, an undefeated regular season and a beatdown of your hated rival. Why chastise your fanbase so, especially now since this is the dawn of the return to greatness? I'd sure love to know. Could it be that all-knowing, all-seeing barometer, A-Day Game Attendance? Hmm...

Hmm... indeed. This kind of tepid nonsense wins you zero points - a sum you should be fairly well acquainted with. Still, even the usually incisive Dr. Saturday fell prey to the charms of this argument and then let the snark overwhelm him in his post on the matter:

Yes, you too, Tide fans, have a role ... a job ... let's just say a responsibility toward the team's ultimate success, and that responsibility is to turn a sleepy, almost entirely inconsequential spring scrimmage into Woodstock for the greater good of your team. Feel the love! And don't forget to clap! Clap so they can hear you!

Actually, Matt, the fans clapping at a useless scrimmage is important and you know enough about college football to realize that. Already this year we’ve seen the kind of scrutiny the NCAA will give to any program that tries to "simulate a gameday experience" as part of their recruiting. The solution, obviously, is to have the one event they can freely attend – A-Day – be as close to a gameday experience as possible. And this includes the television coverage as well.

But enough with this reasoned thinking and back to our calvacade of the execrable. We next suffer a visit from that special breed of folks who use any opportunity to denigrate the Alabama fanbase – part of that time honored off-season tradition known as "remuer la merde."

Exhibit A: the Orlando Sentinel's Andrea Adelson:

Saban can say whatever he wants, and 'Bama fans will continue to support him. Because he wins, and well, that’s all that really matters, right?

Exhibit B: NBC New York's Eamonn Brennan:

What Saban is trying to do here, at a fundamental level, is change the culture at Alabama. It's a pretty remarkable egotistical feat, really. Unfortunately for Nick, no matter how big a deal he is on campus, and no matter how many games he wins or loses, Alabama fans will always be crazy. Same for the rest of the SEC. That insanity runs deeper than any one coach, and it will last longer than one coach's tenure. These people will not have their expectations managed for them. They prefer the mentally unstable approach, thanks.

To be any more patronizing these two would have to reach out of the computer and pat you on the head as you read. This is what happens when you let the interns loose on your website.

Lastly, and certainly not least, there is Paul Finebaum. Despite his stature as the dean of Alabama sportswriting, he seems desperate to cement his reputation as a regional Skip Bayless by screaming contrarian points simply to garner attention. As you might expect, his column on this subject was a gumbo of all the above stupidity seasoned with his favorite garnish – indignation.

What's remarkable is that the Alabama fan base remains assiduous in support of Saban following these incidents, boldly defending him. Fans seem to forget Saban did a perfectly lousy job preparing his team for the Sugar Bowl -- starting with disrespecting the Utah team moments after the heartbreaking Florida loss.

What seems clear is that all of these pundits – and Finebaum in particular – take it for granted that Saban’s imperious manner is proof positive he holds the fanbase in contempt. Which is interesting, since the fanbase doesn’t seem to think that’s the case at all. Our esteemed representatives of the fourth estate then insist this is plain evidence that we thousands of Crimson Tide supporters are… well, idiots.

So which theory requires the greater assumption – that thousands upon thousands of Crimson Tide football fans are misguided brainwashed fools or that a handful of pompous sports writers and biased observers are? You don't need to be named Occam to figure that one out and insulting your readership isn't the smartest business model in the world either.

(We need to point out that there were some very incisive responses to Saban's statements as well. Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News cranked out his usual spot-on assessment and the folks at Planet Weekly pretty much hit the target with their take as well.)

Perhaps the best way to dissect the issue is to examine the assessment over at Fanhouse:

Alabama's performance in the Sugar Bowl had nothing to do with Alabama fans feeling let down about not playing for a national title. Instead, it was about the players and coaches not being properly prepared, and Utah being a great team that played a great game when it mattered most to them.

As much as this analysis of the loss itself is right, it's initial dismissal of fan culpability is not. The fans perception of the team and their contribution is a part of the situation and Coach Saban's comments after A-Day were intended to specifically address the issue.

There is a very clear role for the fanbase in what we've come to know as "the process" and Coach Saban has been explicit on this point from the beginning. No, we the fans don't directly take part in the action on the field, but calling Alabama "our team" means there is a responsibility on our part for the team's success.

Observing Coach Saban’s method, it is clear that he has an insistence on accountability for himself, his players and the UA football program. Why is it beyond understanding for these so-called experts to recognize that this extends to the fanbase as well?

It is interesting that all of these commenters purport to know what we in the Crimson Tide fanbase think but invariably describe us in the third person. In reality there is a critical distinction between us and them – we have respect for Coach Saban. Not because we feel winning is worth any cost but because he has given his word and delivered on it. Repeatedly.

And that’s a hell of a lot different than simply taking what the man dishes out because we are blindly following him. Supporting the coach isn’t necessarily evidence of obeisance and defending him against such accusations doesn’t make one an apologist either. What this degree of respect means is that we will listen to what he says – rather than the insipid interpolations from the self-appointed cognoscenti – and, most importantly, allow him the chance to clarify his statements if it seems he has misspoken.

Which is exactly what he did at The Crimson Caravan:

The statement that I made was that our season last year was a great example of when you have passion and enthusiasm from a team standpoint and from an organization standpoint how well a team can do and how important that is. When we didn't have the same passion and enthusiasm for whatever reasons, same people, they don't do nearly as well. It wasn't a criticism of the fans. It's my responsibility, it's the players' responsibility, its the coaching staff's responsibility. The intention -- it was really taken out of context to make it some other kind of intention -- is that enthusiasm is really important to being successful, and everybody being a part of the team is what has helped us be successful at Alabama. Our fans have contributed to that in a very positive way in the way they've supported A-Day games and the great crowds that we've had for every game since we've been at the University of Alabama home or away.

These words would ring hollow if they were an apologetic follow up to a single misstatement. But they are not. There is no apology here because none is needed. Saban said what he meant to say after A-Day. And he clarified it when it seemed it was misunderstood. Most importantly the points he is making is clearly consistent with what he has said on the subject in the past.

To pretend there is more to it than that and take the opportunity to pontificate at length doesn't address any type of perceived ethical lapse - it is simply an exercise in baring your own prejudices for the rest of the world to see. Or, to use the common vernacular, "showing your ass."

If you don't like Coach Saban and want to sound off about it, be our guest. It's a free country. But stop acting like you speak for us, the Alabama fanbase, in any degree and stop pretending not liking us makes you somehow better than us.