Like a Wimbledon tennis star ripping an ace on his serve, Nick Saban got everyone’s attention at Southeastern Conference Media Days last week when he said, in response to a question, that he “didn’t know” if junior quarterback Jalen Hurts would be on hand when the Crimson Tide begins practice on Aug. 2.
Not even Roger Federer or Serena Williams could match Saban’s feat on Tuesday when, in a day of interviews at the ESPN campus in Bristol, Connecticut, he went to the opposite end of the court and returned his own volley for a winner. While at ESPN, Saban managed to pull off a rare feat from such a day, breaking news that, after returning from Atlanta, he had talked to Hurts and the starting quarterback of the past two seasons had assured Saban he would be back, would compete for the starting job against sophomore Tua Tagovailoa and would go on to graduate as scheduled this December.
“Jalen actually came to me and said ‘I am going to be here. I am going to be here. I came here to get an education. I graduate in December, and I’m going to be here,'” Saban told ESPN’s Sage Steele. He also complimented the way both quarterbacks have handled the situation.
To be fair, there was never a huge wave of speculation that Hurts might actually not be back this fall. The very next words out of Saban’s mouth In Atlanta were “I expect him to be there.” Hurts wasn’t missing — he was in Tuscaloosa, going through summer workouts, attending class and doing everything you’d expect of a player who was getting ready to compete for a position, whether as a quarterback or a linebacker or a long snapper.
Walking away wouldn’t have been on keeping with Hurts’ character. As has been written before, it wouldn’t have made practical sense either. If he left immediately, prior to graduation, he’d have to sit out 2018 and have two years to play at his new school. This way, he can see what happens at Alabama, using the new redshirt rule if there’s not an avenue to make a contribution — and still have two years of eligibility at another school, even within the SEC. Among another of his comments at Bristol on Wednesday morning, as he wrapped up a round of radio shows, was that “if both guys can help us win…why wouldn’t we utilize their talents?”
In the end, Saban seemed to be doing his best to tie up every loose end before practice starts, attempting to reduce the outside noise — I am not sure if it is technically “rat poison,” but may wait before asking for a clarification — surrounding the quarterbacks. His statement about wanting the quarterbacks not to call attention to themselves was phrased in a new way but has been a topic of conversation (hence no interviews) for most of the summer.
By the time Saban does his next public question-and-answer session next week, Alabama will be in full practice mode. Until then, he’s given an update that sounds like a final statement — unless something happens on the field to change it.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.