I was in Birmingham on Monday so I stopped by the zoo and spoke to their magnificent Great Horned Owl.
“Owl, do you think Tua will start against LSU next week?”
“Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama’s quarterback prodigy. Will he start?”
I couldn’t be angry. The owl was answering according to his nature.
A couple of hours earlier, Nick Saban was making his annual speech to the Birmingham Monday Morning Quarterback Club and in a media session before his off-the-record speech, he was asked more or less the same thing about Tua.
Saban was more informative than the owl, somewhat. He gave the update as of Monday because it was Monday. He didn’t project beyond that.
You couldn’t be angry. Saban was answering according to his nature.
“We’ll just have to see what he can do and evaluate his mobility and his performance,” Saban said. “You can’t really predict any of those things, you just let it happen and see how it goes. I think Wednesday will probably be the first day he’s back out on the field. He’s been on the Alter-G (anti-gravity treadmill) now and is progressing well on that which is usually the protocol for how we bring players back that have lower-extremity type injuries.”
So far, so good. But when asked to speculate about Tagovailoa’s availability, that’s when his coaching nature kicked in.
“I can’t know,” Saban said. “I don’t have a crystal ball, don’t know how he’s going to do in Wednesday’s practice. I don’t know how he’ll do after that. So is it fair to say ‘I don’t know?’ I don’t know. Nobody knows.”
That was followed with a quick aside from Saban about how much he “loves” hypothetical questions. A quick translation: he does not love them.
Here’s a quick translation of that exchange, to which there were two sides.
First, there is no reason to criticize the media for asking, even if the question is speculative. If you don’t ask, the reporter— from AL.com, in this case— isn’t doing his or her job. That’s true even if you assume you aren’t going to get a specific not-very-revealing answer 99 percent of the time. You ask because of that one percent, particularly if you are covering what will be the biggest story in college football for the next two weeks.
Saban understands that. There is some give-and-take here, nuance that sometimes gets lost in a story or even a stand-alone video. Part of dismissing those questions now, for Saban, is to reduce the number he gets later on. (Nothing is going to eliminate them entirely.) But there are also two points on Saban’s side.
First, how can he give a definitive answer without even seeing Tagovailoa practice? The universe is built on uncertainty, right down to the smallest particle. There is no guarantee. Second, if Saban had an opinion, as I’m sure he does, what would be the point in expressing it? Will the game be cancelled if Tagovailoa is out? No. Is there any reason to tell LSU coaches what to expect? No. Is there a duty to stop Alabama fans from fretting themselves into nervous collapse? Possibly, but the extreme cases are just going to move on to the next anxiety-inducing scenario?
Beyond that, if you want to ask a fortune teller, do so. If you want to ask Nick Saban, expect him to answer like the owl — according to his nature.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt