December 08, 2011
Nick Saban has never been known as a laugh-a-minute fellow — the current head man at Alabama is wound about as tightly as any coach in recent history, and this was especially true when he coached the Miami Dolphins in 2005 and 2006.
Assembling a 15-17 record wasn't good enough for the Nicktator, who headed back to the collegiate ranks and found an environment in which his particular brand of human interaction actually seems to work.
According to former NFL fullback and current NFL Network analyst Heath Evans, the worst example of Saban's impersonal approach happened in 2005, when he actually stepped over a convulsing player after a practice. Evans relayed the story on Miami's 790 The Ticket on Tuesday.
Well, the first day of two-a-days. We had about a three-hour-plus practice in the morning in that south Florida sun. You guys know what it's like down there in late July, early August. And then that night we had another practice under the lights, if I recall I think it was about from 6 to 9.
Jeno James, our best offensive lineman at the time, comes in and collapses after practice, uh, vomiting all kinds of stuff that would make a billygoat puke, eyes rolled in the back of his head. Myself, about four other lineman are trying to carry him from the locker room, to the training room.
Obviously it's a moment of panic, everyone, you know, we don't know if this guy's, you know, gonna die, I mean, the whole deal. But he's so big and sweaty and heavy that we actually have to set him down in the hallway between the locker room and the training room.
Nick Saban literally just starts walking in, steps over Jeno James convulsing, doesn't say a word, doesn't try to help, goes upstairs, I don't know what he does. But then obviously they get Jeno 'trauma-offed' to the hospital.
Saban calls a team meeting about 10:30 that night, comes down and says, 'You know, the captain of the ship can never show fear or indecision, we've always gotta have an answer, and so I had to go upstairs, that's why I walked over Geno like that, I had to collect my thoughts and decide what's best for our team.'
And I'm thinking to myself, I think along with Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas and Yeremiah Bell and all these other guys going, 'Did he, does he really believe what he's just saying?' He showed no human emotion for one of his best players.
Evans played a handful of games for the Dolphins in 2005, and was eventually cut by Saban, an event that he called "the best thing that ever happened to my career, because obviously A) they had to pay me, and B) Bill Belichick picked me up and I learned more football than I ever thought I'd know — but that deciding moment kind of right there of how Nick Saban handled that, I think it always showed the team that ultimately he doesn't really care about any of us players.
"The guy's an amazing football coach at the college level," Evans concluded. "How he gets it done isn't my style of coaching or teaching. But ultimately, the guy's got some ways about him that I'm just like, 'Are you human?' I think he might be a robot.'"
To our knowledge, Saban has not commented on the allegations since they were made. We'll certainly keep you posted when and if he does.
The impression seems to be that Saban's another of the Bill Belichick disciples who got it wrong. As Evans said himself, the difference between the supposedly autocratic Belichick and the guys who worked under him and failed to get the full message is that Belichick is also a teacher who knows how to lead an organization to consistent success. Saban has found that at the college level, but the Jeno James story appears to be just one example of the nightmarish Saban administration in Miami, and how most everything went wrong.
That said, one player on that team did come to Saban's defense -- safety Yeremiah Bell tried to mitigate Evans' take on things to the Palm Beach Post.
"I think it was a lot worse than coach Saban knew," Bell said of James' condition, which was brought on by dehydration. "I just don't think that we as players even knew how bad it was."
James was hospitalized that day, and it should be mentioned that Saban visited his player in the hospital.
"It made me feel pretty good about this team to see my head coach there," James said at the time.
Perception or reality? Was after the fact enough? It would be interesting to hear Saban's response.
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