September 08, 2009
One of the finer subtleties of coaching is talking up the coming Saturday's cash-strapped, deadbeat opponent: It keeps the boys on their toes, wards off evil karmic spirits and offers a handy reply just in case the chew toy isn't left strewn in pieces across the field. ("See? I told you they were better than you thought ...") So you get Urban Meyer describing Charleston Southern's defense as "tremendous," Jim Leavitt sweating preparations for Wofford, Lou Holtz complimenting the opposing long snapper, etc. It's all in the game.
But Nick Saban, intent on keeping Alabama revved to blast Florida International this week after convincingly dispatching Virginia Tech, may be the first coach to angrily insult reporters for accepting the premise of cupcakes in the first place:
"In no uncertain terms, you're a typical fan," Saban told a reporter Monday, his voice rising as he delivered a 3-minute answer. “That’s fine. But I respect the people that we’re playing. I respect our opponents. I want our players to respect our opponents. This guy No. 4 (FIU receiver T.Y. Hilton) is a better offensive player than anybody that we played against last week. You understand that? Whatever your perception is and what they ought to be, I don’t think it’s that. I don’t want our players to think that either.
"Fans can think that as much as you want. You create that perception, which just creates more problems for me because the players read the papers, too."
Follow-up question, coach: What perception should the media create about a six-year-old I-A program that's 0-14 against "Big Six" schools by an average score of 32-14, routinely finishes in the bottom half (if not the very bottom) of the Sun Belt and had to axe its cheerleaders and band for lack of funds this offseason? I suppose the "experts" who set the Tide as 34-point favorites neglected to do their research.
Of course, Saban isn't alone in wanting to keep his team sharp, focused on the task at hand and as far away as it can get from the hype; such is every coach's dilemma, and he's probably right about T.Y. Hilton, who had 14 catches last year over 25 yards as a freshman, in comparison to anyone on Virginia Tech. But he may be the first coach to berate the present for dealing in reality instead of complying with his mission. It's the media's job to present the record -- in this case, that there is no existing shred of evidence that suggests Florida International, as a team, belongs on the same field as Alabama -- and his job to make sure his superior players ignore it.