Nick Saban, relaying the funny story about his boat being stranded by a faulty fuel pump on Lake Tuscaloosa earlier this summer, said that one of the after-effects was that fans had sent him “a hundred gas cans.”
Intentionally or not, Saban used one on the podium at SEC Media Days in Atlanta on Wednesday.
When Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports asked Saban a direct question on whether the coach expected Jalen Hurts to be on the roster when Alabama opens the season in 47 days, Saban gave just the sort of answer that was certain to fuel the raging inferno of quarterback speculation around the Alabama program, at least among the dry-summer media (and fans).
Does Saban expect Hurts to be on the roster?
“Well, I have no idea,” Saban said.
He immediately followed that with a flood of context, but that flood only drowns the speculative fire if you want it to do so. Otherwise, you take the comment and run with it.
Here is that context, which is entirely consistent with the answer Saban has given to every Tua/Jalen question he’s fielded since Alabama’s A-Day Game in April.
“I think it’s our job to give both players a very fair opportunity to have a chance to win the team at their position,” Saban said. “Both are capable. We’ll create a role for one or both of those guys on our team, and they’ll all have to make a decision based on what that outcome is as to what their future is, you know, at Alabama.
“We certainly would love for every player on our team to stay at the University of Alabama and graduate. Jalen has a great opportunity to do that in December. So, we are hopeful that he will stay there and be a graduate regardless of what his circumstance is as a player.
“But that’s not to minimize his chances of being a starter and making a great contribution to our team in some way, even if he isn’t a starter.”
For a little more context, there haven’t been any discussions where Hurts has told Saban that he’s thinking about not returning. He’s done all the required work in the summer and, by all accounts, has had a good attitude while doing it. The best guess as to what Saban means by having “no idea” is that he hasn’t had a specific conversation with Hurts on the topic, just as he doesn’t specifically ask every one of the other players if they are coming back. In fact, the most obvious flicker of the famous Saban podium impatience came when there was a question about how the new NCAA redshirt rule might affect Hurts. Saban clearly took the question as a suggestion that he might be treating Hurts (and Tagovailoa) differently than other players.
“I think I should handle the quarterback situation not based on a rule but based on what’s best for our team,” Saban said tersely. “I think I owe that to the other 125 guys on our team. Would you agree or disagree?”
Nothing is going to stop people from speculating about the quarterback situation at Alabama until the first game, and maybe not even then. Evaluations can go on for a couple of games after that. Saban has handled it just that way in recent years. The questions aren’t going to stop, although now that his appearance in the Atlanta fishbowl (not the Georgia Aquarium, that’s down the street) is over, there will perhaps be less because there will be fewer people to ask them. In the meantime, Saban can figure out a constructive use for the other 99 gas cans.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.