Nick Saban wasn't taking the rat poison when asked about Alabama football's NFL players instead of Mercer | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

The headlines came quick and thick Wednesday night, all containing some variation on “Saban” or “rant.” 

Actually, Nick Saban showed admirable restraint at least in some parts of his Wednesday Zoom call with media after Alabama football's practice.

He clearly had a message for his team. When the words “rat poison” make it into the first paragraph, you know. Whether it rose to “rant” level or not is a matter of opinion. The word itself seems to be losing steam, and it may be time for “tirade” to come in off the vocabulary bench and give “rant” some relief from its Derrick Henry-like workload.

If there was some element of FCS-week theater involved as a lead-in to Alabama's home opener vs. Mercer, it was small. Saban clearly has a couple of (unnamed) players that he is unhappy with, and the weeks practices haven’t been great.

Take it from someone who has been at the epicenter of more coach-raging than one can remember, the real thing was bubbling in Wednesday’s brew. 

But if you watched closely to the end, that’s when you saw Saban just inches from a full meltdown. There was nothing loud, nothing histrionic, just the slow burn that can be far scarier. 

Nick Saban has rant about the idea that Alabama can lose Saturday's SEC title game and still make the College Football Playoff.

For three straight questions at the end of the session, Saban was asked about the Sunday games in the NFL, two questions about the Miami-New England Mac Jones vs. Tua Tagovailoa contest and another about Julio Jones making his debut with the Tennessee Titans after a decade in Atlanta. That’s not saying anything negative about the reporters asking the questions: they were trying to get a comment and were panning in the right stream, because Saban quotes are rarely rehashed clichés. Occasionally, you will get a golden nugget from him. He was pleasant enough when asked about Jones, Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts a week ago.

But Wednesday, you could see the gears working with each question.

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You can’t read the room if you aren’t in a room, but consider this point: Saban had just come in and opened his remarks with some high-caliber criticism about his team’s focus on Mercer. More than once, he had hinted that the Crimson Tide players were distracted by outside influences. Then, one after another, he was asked about things other than the Mercer game, with a slight, probably unintentional, hint that he would devote at least part of his own time over the weekend thinking about, or maybe even talking about, the NFL.

That’s where the restraint came in. But especially in his final answer, you could tell Saban, far from ranting, was keeping himself in check. 

"I usually am focused on what our team is doing,” Saban said. “I think that we text all 70 players in the NFL and let them know that our thoughts and prayers are with them and we wish them good luck. But we have so many players in the NFL, I don’t really reach out to individuals and have a message for them.

"We’re always anxious to see how they do. I always read a report every week to see how each player did. Sunday’s a big work day for us so we don’t get to see the players play that much. I certainly wish I could. But we have a team here. I think the players all respect the fact that they have a lot of pride in Alabama. I was in the NFL and I know how much trash gets talked on Saturday night about whose team did what, so I know those guys want our team to do well, too.

“I think they know that I’m pretty much committed to that."

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