Yes, we’re talking about Nick Saban, and how about the beast the Alabama coach created last week and battled this week?
It started when he did as he often does and talked over media to his players. A reporter asked a real-world question about backups potentially seeing valuable playing time against overmatched Sun Belt Conference foe Western Kentucky, and it was like Saban was waiting on the question.
The “presumptive” rant was all about making sure his players saw in the media the message he was sending in-house — don’t overlook an opponent, and make every week of practice count.
It was transparent and even made sense, but his attempt to extend control into the world outside the Alabama practice facilities and offices grew legs and walked.
This week, Saban’s rants have become a story, even as the top-ranked Crimson Tide prepares to play its SEC opener at Arkansas. One doubts that even Saban wanted that, but he got it.
Long-time Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Wally Hall took it on, calling the coach “Sir Satan” in a column entitled, “Nick Saban adored by fans, abhorred by media.”
Then came Wednesday’s SEC coaches’ teleconference and the Louisiana writer who asked Saban about his rant. She drew laughs and likely caused Saban a few gut grumbles when she said she just loves his little soapboxes.
In Saban’s answer, he explained that he wasn’t trying to offend anyone. He just wanted to send a message to his players, but there’s just one problem.
He has a long history of rants, including the one in August where he chided media for “hijacking” the game of college football with polls and focus on title contenders.
Then there was the halftime interview during the Michigan game, when sideline reporter Heather Cox tread on one of Saban’s phrasing tripwires. With his team routing the nation’s No. 8-ranked team, he bristled at the idea of “running back by committee.”
Headlines said Saban “berates” Cox and called his reaction “rude.”
Cox’s question seemed like an attempt to relate Alabama’s use of several running backs to a layman audience, but Saban must have worried that his running backs might get the wrong message.
Then came last week’s “presumptive” rant before the Western Kentucky game, and it didn’t end there. He ranted to fans about unsold tickets during his weekly radio show.
No rants this week, but one wouldn’t know it. Saban’s rants have suddenly become a subplot to Alabama’s romps.
Talk about hijacking the game. One bets that even Saban didn’t want that, a’ight.
The continued attention to Saban’s rants comes as other factors beyond his control turn in ways he never wanted. There’s no way he wanted Arkansas to suffer a national embarrassment Saturday, losing to Louisiana-Monroe.
Never mind reminders of Saban’s own loss to ULM in 2007. The upset severely diminished Arkansas, which took the second-biggest tumble in Associated Press poll history, from No. 8 to unranked.
The Razorbacks still have a lot of talent plus a sudden infusion of extra motivation.
The Arkansas loss coupled with questions about quarterback Tyler Wilson’s head injury also diminished Alabama’s next game. The chance to beat a highly ranked Arkansas team on the road suddenly became a game Alabama is favored to win by 20 points.
ESPN’s College GameDay suddenly changed destinations from Fayetteville, Ark., to Knoxville, Tenn., site of the Tennessee-Florida game.
Given Arkansas’ sudden plummet, maybe Saban doesn’t mind media echoes of his week-old rant about taking opponents seriously.
Then again, if Saban and his staff send the right messages in-house, why should media echoes matter? Why should they ever need to go outside their certain sphere of control to talk over media to his players?
It’s an attempt to control the story, and stories sometimes grow out of control.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.