Nick Saban Should Show 'Respect' to Alabama Quarterbacks—and ESPN’s Maria Taylor

Joan Niesen
Sports Illustrated
Nick Saban Should Show 'Respect' to Alabama Quarterbacks—and ESPN’s Maria Taylor
Nick Saban Should Show 'Respect' to Alabama Quarterbacks—and ESPN’s Maria Taylor

Nick Saban has been a head coach in college football and the NFL for every one of the last 23 seasons. Over that time, he’s been on the sidelines for more than 250 games. By the sheer nature of time and experience, one would think that he’d understand how this works: He coaches his team, most of the time to a win by a healthy margin, and afterwards, he answers a few questions—questions fans of his teams and the sport as a whole are wondering about.

All spring and summer, Saban’s Crimson Tide was locked in a quarterback battle—and not just any competition. Vying for the job were the team’s starter in 2016 and ’17 and the then-freshman who came in last January 8 and won Alabama a national title. On Saturday night, in a 51-14 blowout over Louisville, Tua Tagovailoa started and threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns, but Jalen Hurts got work, too. The junior completed five of the nine passes he attempted for 70 yards, playing mostly in mop-up duty after Alabama went into halftime up, 28-0.

There was very little surprising about the Crimson Tide’s performance against Louisville. Its defense was stellar. Tagovailoa looked good, Alabama’s rushers ran all over the Cardinals, Hurts played just fine. And so in her postgame interview with Saban—a man whose team is ranked No. 1 and had just beaten a Power Five nonconference opponent by 37 points—ESPN’s Maria Taylor asked the obvious question: “What answers did you have about your quarterbacks after watching them play tonight?”

And rather than respond with the platitudes that would have been just fine, which would have been fitting after a boring game in a medium where few coaches are ever insightful, Saban blew up. His answer started out sane: “I still like both guys,” Saban said. “I think both guys are good players. I think both guys can help our team.”

He could have stopped there, should have. He’d given his sound byte, albeit an uninteresting one. But instead, Saban took a breath, began waving his arms like little pinwheels, and kept going. “Alright, so why do you continually get me to say something that doesn’t respect one of them?” he continued. “I’m not going to. So quit asking.”

In postgame interviews over the years, televisions have broadcast Cranky Saban, Boring Saban, Bored Saban, Superior Saban. But this was something different. This was something that approached, well, Trumpy Saban. His rant was uncalled for and dripped with condescension for the media—the media in one of its softest-hitting roles. Why? The entire interaction was framed under the assumption that Taylor was doing something disingenuous—rather than simply doing her job. She was asking the only question that made sense as the first inquiry after a game like Saturday’s, and in turn, Saban essentially told her to stop doing her job. He implied that a question with the sole purpose of seeking an opinion was designed to subvert his relationships with his players.

There’s no way to know what Saban was thinking: If he truly came unhinged for a moment (doubtful) or if he was trying to prove a point about who controls the narrative around his team. There’s one thing we do know after Saturday, though: After a ho-hum game in which Alabama’s apparent QB1, Tagovailoa, looked very good, Saban kept the college football world talking about his so-called quarterback competition just a little bit longer.

Oh, and Maria Taylor deserves an apology.

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