Medley: Saban handling career questions best way he can this time around
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Dec 18, 2012 | 4825 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TUSCALOOSA — One has to like Nick Saban’s new way to answer speculation about his career plans — resignation.

No, it’s not that kind of resignation. More like can’t beat it, so might as well defuse it.

“I’m not sure, regardless of what I say, that anybody believes what I say, because I say it all the time,” the Alabama coach told reporters Tuesday after the Crimson Tide’s first practice for its Bowl Championship Series final showdown with Notre Dame.

Yes, coach, we the sports-consuming public have heard a lot of coachspeak. Just in this state, we knew a coach who said they’d have to carry him from his current job in a pine box, right before he took another job.

There’s Saban’s own history, most famously his emphatic and persistent denials about the Alabama job before he left the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

And wouldn’t you know it? Six years later, Saban is about to take his latest Alabama team to Miami, of all places, to play a pretty important game. It’s only for the national championship.

Saban knows he can’t handle things the Saban-in-Miami way. Been there, done that, and, well, he’s right. No one would believe it.

This is especially true in Miami, where his team will report Jan. 2.

With persistent talk linking him and the NFL’s Cleveland Browns — hard to believe, though it is — all he can do is defuse the situation and minimize the distraction as his team prepares. Getting testy would only invite another Miami, and that’s the last thing he wants.

So he’s dealing with the issue while his team works out in the more controllable environs of campus. As best as one can tell, he’s doing it with a multi-pronged and smart strategy.

First, at least catch up to the story, if not get out in front of it.

The main thrust of speculation about Saban and the Browns started with a Dec. 9 report in the Boston Globe. The premise was that the Browns might make a change at general manager, and likely candidate Michael Lombardi’s appeal includes his supposed ability to lure Saban.

Then came two-sided statements by Lombardi and Saban’s own wife, Terry, who expressed her personal choice to stay in Tuscaloosa, but also said her husband isn’t having as much fun winning amid expectations he has fueled at Alabama.

That was last week. Nick Saban himself began this week by speaking over Miami’s air.

“This has been a good thing for my family to be here,” he told Dan Le Batard on Miami station 790 The Ticket, on Monday. “College football has been very good for us. The positive impact that you can have on these young men as players and as people, that’s just something that we really enjoy and something that I learned about myself.

“I really enjoy what I’m doing here right now. I’m getting old now. I don’t think we’ve got too many moves left in us. ... Hopefully, I’ll be able to stay here for a long, long time.”

Alabama athletics director Mal Moore gave Saban backup Tuesday.

“He’s expressed to me on several occasions ... that he’s happy here,” Moore told ESPN.com. “He feels very comfortable, and I believe him.”

Recapping, Moore and Nick Saban made their he’s-happy-here statements in national and Miami media before the Tide hit the field for its first pre-BCS practice. That’s catching up to and, maybe just maybe, getting ahead of the story.

Next comes a charm offensive, needed because Nick Saban’s handling of his departure from Miami six years ago didn’t go over so well. He’s dealing with it head-on.

“The big thing with me is not handling the way I left well,” he told Le Batard. “That’s always been a thing with me. I’ve never felt good about. I’ll probably never feel good about it.”

Nick Saban even addressed the second-most-unpopular decision attributed to him in Miami, signing quarterback Daunte Culpepper over Drew Brees. The coach said it wasn’t his decision.

“We chose Drew Brees,” Nick Saban told Le Batard about the quarterback who went on to win a Super Bowl with New Orleans. “I’ve never ever talked about this publicly. That’s the guy we made the first offer to. A lot of players know this. There was a lot of loyalty in the organization, and players never talked about it.”

It all came down to Brees not passing his physical, Nick Saban said.

Recapping, Nick Saban told folks in Miami he regrets the way he handled his departure, and he couldn’t sign the quarterback Dolphins fans now so wish he had signed.

Through all of this, there was no Nick Saban testiness, no hint of a rant.

Even as a reporter asked him Tuesday, after the Tide completed its first pre-BCS practice, the coach who is known to bristle at questions unrelated to the next game didn’t. Asked if his level of contentment with the college game is as he had previously described it, he said, “It most certainly is.”

“We’re really, really pleased and happy to be here,” he said. “We’ve been able to accomplish a lot, but like I’ve talked about before, this is a work in progress all the time.

“You’ve got to stay focused on the process and try to continue to think the next game is the most important game, the next season is the most important season and developing your team every year. We certainly look forward to those challenges.”

Then came resignation (the good kind), followed by explanation.

“This is what we’re happy doing,’ he said. “This is what we like to do, but nobody really believes that, so maybe it doesn’t matter. So, I don’t know what I have to say and do, but, you know, it’s kind of funny to me.”

Oh, and there was a touch of unsolicited charm.

“Plus, you all are asking the wrong person,” he said. “You know, Ms. Terry makes all the decisions about all of that.”

There were laughs in the room, but recapping: questions asked, and questions now answered before national, Miami and Alabama media. He also dealt with prickly things specific to the Miami market.

Nick Saban knows that’s all he can do this time, and expect more questions to produce similar, well-tempered answers. Anything else triggers the past and makes it worse.

Besides, maybe everyone will get bored with it.

Nick Saban hates games outside the game but has himself partly to blame for this one, so his apparent game plan is the best one possible.

For what it’s worth, at least his player leadership seems to have the plan well in hand.

“We don’t talk about that,” said senior defensive lineman Damion Square, one of three players available for interviews after the first BCS practice. All three were recently elected captains by their teammates.

“That has nothing to do with us as a team in this year,” Square said. “The next game that we’ll have to play has nothing do to with that.

“That’s the future, and anything that happens with that will happen after the game, which has nothing to do with me. So, we don’t talk about it.”

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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