Nick Saban is not the Wizard of Oz. He informed the public of this on Saturday.
This should come as no surprise. Still, some people among Alabama’s large and diverse fan base still seem to expect that the head coach is going to appear as a giant green head, flanked by flashing lights and thunderous sound effects and make booming proclamations.
This is not the Emerald City. Saban has never worked that way at Alabama and was not going to start on Saturday with a statement about the starting quarterback, the topic that has raged since January. The head coach will bide his time, no matter what happened at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
That statement covers no new ground. Game-day decisions, even competition that carries over into the first few games of the season, has been the Saban approach since he arrived in Tuscaloosa. That’s the way Jalen Hurts won the job to begin with, at the start of 2016. The approach has netted five college football championships and come close to four more. What’s more, none of the close calls had anything to do with how the starting quarterback position was handled in August.
To be clear, Saban’s “Wizard of Oz” statement had nothing to do with Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa. He was instead commenting, light-heartedly, on how he is subject to the laws and rules of the NCAA when it comes to eligibility and transfers. The magic wand he chose to illustrate his point was his always-handy podium soda bottle. (“The wand chooses the Wizard, Mr. Potter.”) But you can use almost any example at this point to illustrate the fact Saban is not about to magically change what he has done for the past 11 years.
He may not be the Wizard, after all — I will not waver from that opinion unless the words “Surrender Dorothy” appear in black smoke above the practice field on Monday. But he is the supreme authority in such matters. He doesn’t need the smoke and mirrors, the wheels and gadgets, for he is no humbug. His voice carries full weight.
Since before spring training, it’s been said, emphasized and written in this column that there is every chance Tagovailoa will ultimately be the starting quarterback based strictly on ability. The sophomore seemed, not just in “one half of football” against Georgia but in all of his appearances in 2017, like a prodigy. He’s going to play — only the role is undefined.
No statistics were released from the scrimmage. Scrimmage stats went out with the fax machine. The media was not allowed to watch and the Saturday crowd was limited mainly to family, friends and former players. The next scrimmage will have far larger attendance and thus an equal explosion of opinions. At least one of those who was in attendance, former defensive back Will Lowery, a cogent observer and a Twitter aficionado — he was invited to take over our Tidesports Twitter account for an Alabama game last fall — declared the race for Tagovailoa before the polls even closed, adding that “it isn’t even close.” To be fair, Lowery also echoed the “no announcement before the first game” opinion. And while there’s no way to confirm his opinion without first-hand observation, there’s no reason to assume it is wrong.
Thus, in some circles, the impatience grows.
Saban’s final word on the matter on Saturday: it’s cumulative. That means waiting until he decides the time is right, and no other.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.