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Nick Saban apologizes, says he could have handled Maria Taylor’s ESPN interview ‘in a better way’

Nick Saban wasn’t interested in having a long conversation with Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino, either. (John Raoux/Associated Press)

Nick Saban isn’t going to face any pesky questions about who his starting quarterback will be, at least for this week, and he apologized for his response to the issue in a live TV interview over the weekend.

The Alabama coach, who has refused to commit to either Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts despite being pestered and peppered with reporters’ questions, made it official Monday: The guy who came off the bench and led the Crimson Tide to the national title last winter will be the starter.

“Everybody knows that Tua’s going to start this game,” Saban told reporters in his weekly news conference Monday, “and we’re going to use Jalen’s skill set in the future.”

Having two stellar quarterbacks is a nice problem to have, unless you’re the person who holds their futures in your hands. After a 51-14 victory over Louisville on Saturday night, Saban grew testy when ESPN’s Maria Taylor asked who would start against Arkansas State this week. “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.”

Saban was widely criticized for the lack of civility and said he had phoned Taylor to apologize. “I need to learn a better way to respond to that, and I pray every Sunday that I never get angry,” he said Monday (via

Saban added that “penalties” and “mental errors” on the field contributed to his frustration, saying it was a “time and circumstance thing” for him. “I was a little upset by the way we finished the game, the penalties that we had, the mental errors that we had. I was a little bit upset by the way we finished the game. The penalties that we had. The mental errors that we had. So it was totally my responsibility, and we apologized for it.”

Saban wasn’t backing down from his implication that naming one quarterback to start vilified the other, as he claimed in the ESPN interview.

“[If] I get asked to vilify a player and make another one a crown prince publicly, I might not respond to that,” he said, “and I need to learn a better way to respond to that. And I will in the future.’’

Saban added that he has in the past refused to name a starter until after the first game and had been following that practice. But a quarterback controversy has festered since the national championship game, until Monday’s announcement. “Now we know and you know,” he said.

Tagovailoa, a sophomore from Hawaii, got the start in Alabama’s 51-14 victory over Louisville, passing for two touchdowns and rushing for another. Hurts, who is 26-2 with the Tide in 28 starts and two national title game appearances, entered the game in the second quarter, after Alabama had the lead.

“Tua is instinctive and made pretty good decisions in the game and got the ball to the right place most of the time,” Saban said.

Hurts expressed some displeasure with the situation before the season. He is set to graduate in December but could take a redshirt and retain a year of eligibility if he appears in four or fewer games. That would allow him to leave as a graduate transfer and play immediately with two years of eligibility.

“Just to be clear about something, I love all of our players on our team,’’ Saban said Monday (via USA Today). “And I think as parents out there, you could relate to this, that you love all your children. And sometimes some of your children do things a little better than the others.

“That doesn’t mean you vilify one and you put the other one on a pedestal, especially publicly because you want to support and help both to be successful. And that’s exactly how I feel about our players, and I just want everybody to understand that.’’

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Come on, Nick Saban. Belittling an ESPN reporter is beneath you.