Look, I'm on record as criticizing the coaching staff's reaction to the loss versus Ohio State regarding players failing to respect Cardale Jones. Kirby Smart, to his credit, did say that it is on the coaches to motivate players and make them aware of the talent they are facing. And, to their credit, the Alabama staff paid a visit with former Buckeye OC Tom Herman to see how they scouted the Tide.
That said, not every justification, not every factor given for a loss means that it is an excuse for a loss or is an attempt by the staff to excuse a loss.
Reporters ask questions. They receive answers.
Yet, every year it seems, it's impossible for Saban to actually answer the damned things without it turning into a carnival of smarmy back-biting, smoking hot #takes, and ledes and headlines written by Matt Drudge.
Take for instance, the most recent kerfuffle regarding Saban's explanation of some player's heads not being in the game:
Saban: NFL draft evaluations affected Alabama chemistry | College Football
Saban said Wednesday at SEC media days one factor was that six juniors received their evaluations for the NFL draft during that period. He wants that date pushed back until after the final game to prevent such potential distractions. "We had six guys in this situation this past year and 11 the year before," Saban said. "So we're trying to get ready for a game, and all of a sudden a guy finds out he's a first-round draft pick or a guy that thought he was a first-round draft pick finds out he's not a first-round draft pick, and we're trying to get ready to play a playoff game."
Seems fair enough, right? A few guys have the biggest decision of their life ahead of them and the timing and professional input into those decisions comes down right as teams are preparing for the championship playoff. That surely does get in a few players heads. It has to. They are 22 year-old young men pondering the rest of their life.
It seems that evident to our friends at For Whom The Cowbell Tolls.
Alabama's Nick Saban Absolutely Correct about NFL Draft Grades - For Whom the Cowbell Tolls
All of the dates set by the NFL concerning the draft are arbitrary. The league could set them for any time. With that being the case, why should players be given such a short window to receive draft grades and declare for the draft of leaving college early? These players, especially ones in high profile bowl games, must now contend with the pressures associated with the game plus their pressure of making a decision about their careers. It is not necessary for them to do so. If [the] NFL pushed its draft grade dates and the deadline to declare for the draft back, players could focus on the game at hand and then make the biggest decision of their careers.
Open-shut, it seems. But, no. Instead, we get hit pieces from professional flaks like Don Wolken:
Nick Saban breaks out lame excuses for Alabama's lame finish last season
Forget for a moment how self-serving it is for a man who makes $7 million a year to discuss his players' life-changing decisions in that manner, which is bad enough. Forget the gall it took for Saban to look at a group of reporters in a room here at the Hyatt and question whether one of his NFL-bound underclassen would run out of bounds for fear of injury instead of finishing a play. It's also absurd.
Actually, Dan. Yes, Amari Cooper frequently runs out of bounds at the end of the play instead of taking hits. That's why he's been healthy (his foot injury was non-contact.) It's not absurd to ask if a guy like T.J. Yeldon may want to save some mileage for the combine when he knows he can't gain another yard or so. And I don't think most would fault him either.
It's frustrating as hell to answer a direct question with candor and get accused of excuse-making. We're not alone in this frustration.
CECIL HURT: Media quick to criticize Saban’s comments | TuscaloosaNews.com
Excuses, excuses. That was the main topic at SEC Media Days in Hoover on Wednesday as hundreds of attendees were breathlessly writing or Tweeting that Nick Saban was making "excuses" for Alabama’s loss to Ohio State because he suggested that the NFL’s early draft entry date (Jan. 15) might have been a distraction for some Crimson Tide players.
Don't ask the question if you don't want the answer.
The Mothership came closest to hitting the nail on the head as to why Saban would address it then. Unfortunately, it is lost in a lot invective and is buried in the last paragraph:
Nick Saban's NFL Draft argument is self-serving and doesn't make much sense - SBNation.com
Because Saban does use SECMD as a chance to set the table for conversations. He's stumped on a variety of topics in Hoover before. Him talking about this isn't out of the ordinary, but the way in which he blamed part of a loss on pro evals left him wide open for criticism. Or in to put it in terms Saban can most appreciate: he could've controlled this better.
Bingo. This was a chance for Saban to advance his agenda. He's always been proactive about addressing ways that he feels the sport can be improved (and, selfishly, which improve his teams' chances of success.) But, instead of focusing on the more thoughtful (and likely) reason for why he would address the issue, we get stale, tired, trite takes and name-calling. Our sports journalism has all of the charm, civility and maturity of most political coverage...and we pretend to actually like sports.
Something to think about
On the Confederate Flag and SEC Football Coaches - Red Cup Rebellion
This issue (and issues involving race relations and the state's legacy thereof in general) has had an impact on both Ole Miss and Mississippi State's ability to recruit not only athletes, but other students, faculty, and staff. And with both schools being, by far, the most visible public institutions of the Magnolia State - I wager that more people in the United States would recognize Dak Prescott before they'd recognize our Governor, Phil Bryant - the thoughts and opinions of people like Dan Mullen can have a pretty significant impact.
RCR with an absolutely gem of a story on the Confederate flag, coaches' place in the debate, and Southern schools (especially Mississippi) that have to deal with the NOVA emblem on their state flags. Alabama doesn't have to deal with this one now (thanks, Gov. Bentley!) but it's not exactly like Alabama (and every other SEC institution) doesn't have it's own baggage - historical or otherwise, to deal with. Saban is on record as stating that it is a divisive symbol unworthy of who we are as people and as an institution. Still, go check it out. Good stuff from Ghost.
Arkansas' Bret Bielema calls ending of Texas beatdown 'borderline erotic' - SBNation.com
You might recall Arkansas beating the shit out of Texas in the Texas Bowl last year, then running out the clock instead of adding even more humiliating points. I'm supposed to tell you I'm sorry for cursing, but that's what happened.
I love this man. He is my spirit animal. Anyone that throws down the Horns and calls a win "borderline erotic" is alright by me. I laugh every time I type it or read it.
Welcome to the new arms race
No, I'm not talking about facilities or head coaches' salaries, I'm talking about coordinators' salaries. Auburn broke the bank on this one, FWIW.
Auburn Tigers to pay defensive coordinator Will Muschamp $5.1 million over 3 years | FOX Sports
Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will make at least $5.1 million over three years. The university released the contract Wednesday. The former Florida head coach will make $1.6 million in the 2015 season and receive $100,000 raises in each of the next two years plus unspecified bonuses. Florida also owes Muschamp $6.3 million over three years. That raises his total pay to $3.9 million a year.
$4m a year? What incentive does Muschamp have to leave now? That's a better salary than most Div. 1 coaches.
Finally, good news
Throwbacks: Penn State ditching jersey names for tradition | College Football
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State's football jerseys will have a throwback look this season: no names. The university said Thursday it's returning to the style it sported for 125 years before player names were added the last three seasons. Coach James Franklin says there's only one name that matters: Penn State.
I am as big a fan of classic looks and old school manball as you will find. I applaud Franklin taking this back to the days. Penn State should be white britches, battered white helmet, black sneakers, and royal blue jerseys. Period.