Seriously, what happens between the third week of July and first Sunday in August that accounts for the difference between his annual, gracious statement before more than 1,000 media members in Hoover and his becoming-annual rant before Alabama media in early August?
We’ve all heard how the Alabama coach handles his annual podium call at SEC Media Days. For those who need a refresher course, here’s how he started and finished at the Wynfrey Hotel on July 19:
“We certainly appreciate what you do to promote college football and college athletics,” he said early in his opening remarks before so many tips of the hype spear. “I think you do a tremendous amount to provide a lot of positive self-gratification for a lot of student-athletes. We appreciate that more than you know.”
Once he finished answering the final question, which covered quarterback AJ McCarron’s performance in last season’s national-title game and Saban’s level of reassurance about the quarterback position, he ended where he started.
“Thank you, guys,” he said. “Again, thanks for all that you do for college student-athletes.”
He says that every year in Hoover, almost word for word.
Then comes that first official preseason news conference in Tuscaloosa, and Saban stands in front of about 30 media members in the Naylor Stone Media Room and throws some night on his day.
Rewind a year, when he went off about media misfires on injury news and speculation over Blake Sims’ role on the team.
So much “misinformation,” he said, and “I feel sorry for our fans.”
We could pause to reflect on fans’ demands for such information and how hard the job becomes when Saban allows media to view so little of practice, but let’s not waste more time on the old … not when we have a new rant.
“I know you guys are going to have all of these comparison questions,” he said during his opening remarks Sunday. “Where are you ranked, and how many games are you going to win, and what’s going to happen to this player, and which guy is going to make the biggest impact on the team?
“And, all of these predictions that you all make, they hijack the game.”
Of all the things media has been called, hijackers? Well, moving on.
Predictions hijack the game “because all everybody worries about in college football is the BCS,” Saban said. “Who’s going to be in the final game?”
His delivery ramps up.
“Well, you know, we’ve got a lot of great games for our fans, for our players, in great, competitive venues,” he said. “The Michigan game is going to be a great game. The Arkansas game, the Tennessee game, LSU, Auburn. I could go through every game on our schedule and say how exciting a game it’s going to be, and why do we play the games? To answer the questions.
“I don’t even know for sure who our quarterback is going to be in the sixth game of the year, and nobody here can predict that. None of you can predict that.”
Ummm, McCarron? The returning starter?
“AJ is a good quarterback,” he said, “but there could be circumstances that don’t allow him to play in the game, and you all want me to predict that, and then you go vote and have your polls and all of that and want me to respond to it, and, also, the individual players that I can’t make those predictions about, either.
“Our focus right now is developing sort of a synergy on our team, with a goal to be relentless competitors, to be a team that nobody really wants to play, by developing the toughness, the ability to be relentless and sustain it for 60 minutes of the game, every play in the game.”
There was more, like how “external factors” create expectations and, therefore, play a role in causing newcomers to practice tentatively because, you know, they don’t want to mess up.
If only Saban would have left it at talk about the newcomers and the colorful metaphor about whether they want to be “thermometers or thermostats,” one affected by its environment and one affecting it.
But then he veered into media and predictions, which brings us back to the question. What happens between late July and early August?
What happens to talk of “positive self-gratification” and appreciating those whose jobs are to report on college football “more than you know?”
Was it the release of the USA Today poll, which has an Alabama team that lost 13 starters ranked No. 2?
Was it two days of practice?
That’s all standard stuff, and maybe Saban should keep it on graciousness. With two national championships in three years and annually top-ranked recruiting classes, he has done more than any professional hype peddler to create the level of buzz and expectations surrounding Alabama’s program.
Maybe he should just keep thanking those who recognize and report that reality. Maybe the guy who preaches consistency to his players should keep coming off in a way that reflects more “positive self-gratification.”
After all, Alabama’s players? Saban’s most important constituents? The folks he normally addresses when talking over the media? They don’t seem taken in by their hijackers.
How much do players notice preseason hype?
“None,” McCarron said. “If you win every game, you’re going to be in the national championship. It doesn’t really matter where you start. I don’t think our team pays attention to that at all. I mean, I know I don’t. I know a lot of our older guys don’t.
“Probably younger guys (do), because, when you’re getting recruited, that’s what people talk about. You signed with a No. 1 school, or whatever, but other than that, I don’t think the older guys pay attention to it.”
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.