Okay, Nick Saban, we get it. You really, really hate those brief postgame television interviews, and find the questions you are asked about your quarterbacks to be far, far beneath you.
We got it weeks ago, with the exasperated sighs and snarky responses that come whenever you face reporters’ questions. Honestly, we have some sympathy. Journalists don’t think like coaches and vice versa, which means that interview sessions can become nothing more than condescending cliches offered in response to softball inquiries.
But sometimes, as when there’s an obvious quarterback controversy of your own making, the questions are legit, no matter how tiring they may be. The latest example of the Alabama coach’s disdain for transparency about his quarterbacks came after the Crimson Tide’s 51-14 victory over Louisville in Saturday night’s season opener, when an abrasive reply to an ESPN reporter reportedly prompted Saban to call her and apologize.
ESPN’s Maria Taylor asked Saban after the game what answers he had gotten about quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts during their first outing of the season. As postgame on-field questions go, this one was on point; Alabama’s quarterback position has been a subject of debate since Saban benched Hurts in the national championship game and Tagovailoa led the team to an overtime victory over Georgia.
Tagovailoa got the start against Louisville on Saturday night and completed 12 of 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns; he rushed for 26 yards on five carries and scored, too. Hurts came in and completed 5 of 9 passes for 70 yards, rushing for nine yards on three carries. All of which prompted Taylor to ask Saban as he left the field, “What answers did you have after watching both of your quarterbacks play tonight?’’
Saban, live on ESPN, opened with a tepid answer, then appeared to grow heated.
“Well, I still like both guys,” he said. “I think both guys are good players. I think both guys can help our team, all right? So why do you continually try to get me to say something that doesn’t respect one of them? I’m not going to. So quit asking.”
Sorry, but answering that question does not require disrespecting either player. And, while we’re talking about respect, it’s Saban’s job to offer a decent answer, even if he doesn’t divulge which way he’s leaning. The highest-paid public employee in Alabama and one of the most powerful football coaches in America should take the high road. Instead, he looks petty, trying to intimidate a reporter who was merely doing her job. Perhaps he could come up with a new way of saying nothing, maybe by studying that other master of coaching condescension, Bill Belichick.
Saban later phoned Taylor to apologize, according to a Sunday afternoon tweet by James Miller, the author of the definitive book about ESPN and host of podcasts about Saban and Alabama. As for Taylor, don’t worry too much about her. She’s just fine, as her late-night tweet showed. “Don’t mind me…Just doing my job,” she wrote. “On to the next game.”
Plenty of others, though, called for Saban to apologize, with her ESPN colleague Paul Finebaum one of many who criticized the coach’s response.
“First of all, it was a perfectly legitimate question asked by an outstanding reporter in a nonthreatening way. This was not contentious,” Finebaum said Sunday morning on “SportsCenter” (via Saturday Down South). “This was not in your face. And for Nick Saban on that stage to treat Maria Taylor like that is totally classless. He does not rule the world. He is a football coach at the University of Alabama. He might be the best coach in college football and best coach of all time, but when he continues to treat people like that, he loses.”
No one expects an Algonquin level of conversation in these brief postgame interludes, but how about a little civility? Be bigger than this, Nick Saban.
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