There’s been no word yet on the replacement for Phil Savage as the color analyst in the Alabama football radio booth … but as the great Ken Stabler would have put it, “I think something is fixing to happen, Eli.”
From an avalanche of applications, Alabama is down to three finalists. There has been no acknowledgement from any candidates, who are looking to keep the process quiet. Jim Carabin, the general manager of the Crimson Tide Sports Network, was not immediately available for comment. But with Crimson Tide practice set to begin on Aug. 2, there is little question that UA would like to have a replacement on board by then, perhaps as soon as next week.
The job isn’t easy, requiring both radio chops and an ability to analyze the on-field action without the aid of instant replay, only a verbal description. There’s more and more weight given to the technical side of football as fans become more perceptive about that aspect of the game. The generation of fans who might watch (or listen to) one or two games per weekend is being replaced by fans who might watch a dozen, all augmented by computerized technological that makes a broadcast (or telecast) from 10 years ago look almost as dated as archival film from the 1945 Rose Bowl.
Fans still consider the radio broadcast as part of “their team,” distinct from the television crew. As such, a great call can go down in history — or infamy, if you decide to joke about Tua Tagovailoa’s game right before a second-and-26 play.
Because of that connection, fans can be forgiving. That’s why Stabler didn’t have to get every single pronunciation of every single name right. (Like Nick Saban, I think Snake would have gone exclusively with the name “Tua” and let Eli handle the heavy lifting of “Tagovailoa.”) Savage didn’t have the sly Stabler charm — who does, in these times? — but handled the X’s-and-O’s well. That’s why there a ticking clock to name his replacement, so the next color commentator can have a good month of working practices and scrimmages, handling a flood of interviews and so forth. There isn’t a need for a Dick Vitale-type. This isn’t a criticism of Vitale, a great ambassador for college basketball. But he does have a tendency to take over a broadcast or, to extend the analogy to football, an entire booth. The best college commentators don’t have to talk over every single play, but when they do have a point to make, they should be able to back it up, sell it and, when the occasion arises, come back and expand on it. If it is a former Alabama player — probably a good bet — mix it in with relevant experiences. The fans are going to be inclined to like a familiar name anyway, so the new commentator won’t have to overwhelm anyone.
Also, they will need to be ready for a little controversy — not to create it, but to know that some decisions aren’t going to please every fan all the time. That might start with the first snap in the Alabama booth — right? — so it will be best to be prepared.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.