CECIL HURT: Alabama football coach Nick Saban not tossing his straw hat into the political ring

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

This is an apolitical column, just as Nick Saban tried to make an apolitical statement on the Southeastern Conference teleconference on Wednesday morning. No matter how carefully you try to skate in the middle of the ice, someone on one side of the rink is going to take umbrage. That’s especially true right now, when umbrage is the nation’s oxygen.

Saban was asked a two-part question, the first part of which he answered definitively and the second part which he answered more diplomatically. Let’s briefly take the second part, which required a comment on Alabama’s new Senator-elect, Tommy Tuberville.

“Tommy’s always been someone who I have a tremendous amount of respect for,” Saban said, replying to Bob Holt of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “We did compete against each other but we’ve been really good friends for a long, long time and I’m really happy for him. I think he’ll do a really, really good job. We’ve always tried to stay out of the political arena here just as a way of the world in the coaching profession but I’m happy to see that he’ll have an opportunity and I think he’ll do a really good job.”

People can read anything they want between the lines, but it did not appear that Saban was endorsing all Republicans any more than his great friendship with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, his childhood friend from West Virginia, waves the banner for that party. The relationship between the two coaches seemed respectful during their tenures. Tuberville had a winning record (4-3) against Saban at LSU and Alabama, but Saban unceremoniously ushered Tuberville out of the Auburn job with a blowout win in their last meeting. 

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Here’s the other thing, and I will speak for myself instead of trying to interpret Saban’s thoughts. Whether I was an enthusiastic Tuberville supporter or not, the election in Alabama is over and the electorate has made its choice. Tuberville will soon be an Alabama voice in Washington for at least the next six years and hopefully he will help the state in important ways. 

The first part of the question was easier for Saban, and even brought out a chuckle. Asked if he planned to follow a political path after his football career was over, he was not in the undecided column. 

I can answer that part real quick,” he said. “No.”

Saban could be successful, of course. He has massive name recognition, is smart, would be more than willing to debate anyone and would organize an effective staff in short order. Whether he would want to listen to anyone else’s opinion is another matter.

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Tuberville’s foray isn’t the first by a former football fixture in this state. The most notable winner was Fob James, the former Auburn running back who won the gubernatorial race as a Democrat in 1978, then showed that he hadn’t lost his ability to swerve in midfield by winning again, as a Republican in 1995. He was at the end of his second term and thus a non-voting member of the Auburn Board of Trustees when the Tigers hired away the Ole Miss coach after the 1998 season: Tommy Tuberville (small world, isn’t it?)

From time to time, there was talk that Paul “Bear” Bryant could run for any office he wanted in Alabama. Bryant was too shrewd to take that path. Saban has the same common sense. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt

Cecil Hurt