On the Beat: Nick Saban already frustrated with speculation over Alabama’s quarterbacks

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — All it took was one question during his first press conference of the spring for University of Alabama coach Nick Saban to show his frustration regarding the conjecture surrounding the Crimson Tide’s quarterback situation.

It was regarding sophomore Tua Tagovailoa’s thumb injury and how it might complicate the plan for him to split practice reps with junior Jalen Hurts.

Saban responded by pointing out the setback it could make it difficult for anyone to grip the ball and throw, but then added: “We don’t have any decisions, aren’t speculating on any decisions, just going to be fair and honest on how we give each player a chance to compete.”

The next question was about reserve linebacker Keith Holcombe, and the decision to have him focus on baseball this spring, but Saban was subsequently asked how the quarterbacks were embracing the competition.

“Both of those guys have been great,” he said. “I know every time I stand up here you guys are going to make something out of it that it isn’t. It’s two good players. Both can contribute to our team and we’re going to give them an opportunity to do that. They’ve been great with each other, they’ve been great for each other, they’ve both shown leadership for our team. They’re both important to our team.

“I don’t really have anything to say. I know y’all want us to make something out that really isn’t there so you can make a big deal out of this. It’s competition just like at every other position.”

Only it isn’t. It’s the quarterback job at Alabama, one of the most high-profile spots in college football, which was magnified when the SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman in 2016 was replaced in the National Championship Game by the one who sparked the dramatic comeback for a 26-23 overtime victory against Georgia.

Some saw it as an immediate changing of the guard, but not the man who has to make the final decision. Remember, his favorite word regarding the development of his players and team is “process.”

He now has to deal with an almost impossible situation, if not because both players want and are deserving to start, but due to outside influences that could potentially divide the team. It’s already doing so among fans, as everyone seems to have an opinion and many are quick to go from Step 1 to 10 regardless of what may be between.

So when a reporter asked Saban what he says to players to try to get them not to transfer out of the program, his frustration started to really show.

“Do you have some proof of this or is this just some speculation on your part, or a generalization, or something you read on the Internet? No one has come to me and talked to me about transferring yet …”

The questioner responded that he was talking of a more general sense, like when Alabama had numerous quarterbacks depart after Hurts won the starting job.

“The thing that I try and get guys to do is not have an unrealistic reality about their circumstance and their career as a football player, what they want to try and accomplish as a student and are trying to develop a career off the field, and what kind of person they want to be. I think with all the information out there sometimes that’s a little bit easy to get a little unrealistic about … because basically every athlete, every guy, when you’re a senior in high school you have goals and aspirations and things you want to accomplish. But when it comes to developing your career you’re rolling the dice for how that works out. All right? How you were able to compete, how you were able to sustain, what kind of player you’re going to be, and it makes it even more difficult because all the people out there who are so-called experts on Scout.com and all the people who give them 5 stars, they create an expectation for these guys that’s unrealistic.

“So it’s an unrealistic reality that we live in with a lot of young players, and I feel badly for them because what I like for them to do is just focus on what they need to do to be good players, and not worry about trying to meet all the expectations and standards that people have created for them. And I think in some cases that contributes to guys making not great decisions about what they do in terms of their future — whether it’s transferring when they shouldn’t or … like we had a couple of guys who transferred who would be starting here now. They haven’t started anyplace else yet, so what good did it do?

“But we’d like for everyone to be in the program, we’d love for everyone to finish the program. Sometimes when guys see that they might not have an opportunity to play they have to weigh the fact of is playing more important someplace else, or I think I have a better opportunity to play, than it is to stay in this program. We encourage them to stay here and be a part of the program. It’s not personal. I help guys go to other places if I think that might help their career and that’s what they want to do and it’s the best thing for them. It’s just a part of the business, I think, that we have to deal with.”

It’s going to be a long spring for Saban. The quarterback competition has barely started and he’s scheduled to meet with reporters seven more times including A-Day on April 21.

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