Mistake Makes Coverage Tougher

Thanks, Jeff Darlington. You just added another degree of difficulty to those of us who cover University of Alabama football.

I met Jeff the day Nick Saban flew into town. Seemed like a pretty good guy. Young, full of confidence and aggressive. I've read his copy, and you can see he writes with a spark. No sparks for Jeff at the Super Bowl however, as ESPN Radio reports he is being disciplined for his actions in the release of the Saban "coonass" tape.

My thoughts on the content of that audio file: What's the big deal?

Nick Saban relates, and maybe embellishes, a story told to him by a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors. The racier part was what Saban said after the coonass reference. Newsflash: college football coach uses salty language!

I've lived in Louisiana longer than Saban and -- after conferring with my pal Boudreaux -- I can assure you being called a coonass is more a badge of honor for Cajuns than it is a derogatory term. The stories that cropped up calling "coonass" an ethnic slur are simply hilarious.

In my view, it's less offensive than being called a "redneck," which shouldn't be offensive in itself.

So the story holds little news value other than it was told by a man who has won a national championship and who is now employed at the division rival of the school he led to said championship.

The deeper, more compelling, stories are the day two and three stories.

Darlington let, by whatever means, an "off the record" part of a tape get in the hands of a sports talk radio host.

I've read alleged accounts of how this actually went down, supposedly at the Senior Bowl in Mobile. NFL beat guys sitting around swapping funny stories. People in this business, and in a lot of professions, do it every day.

Darlington relates his story. He has a tape. His "buddy" at the Miami radio show wants to hear the tape, tells Darlington he won't let it out. Winds up on the air in a market where Saban-bashing is not only cool, it's expected.

Side note here to Saban: We're not buying your explanation of the difficulties you faced in Miami in December relative to Alabama's expressed interest in hiring you.

To quote you, in front of the Alabama media on Jan. 11: "Do I need to say more relative to my case? Take the media out of everything that happened to me and I would have no issues in life. ... That was all created by speculation and innuendo."

Try this on: "I am told that Alabama is interested in talking to me. Right now I am coach of the Miami Dolphins and I'm doing everything in my power to help this franchise win. I am under contract to Wayne Huizenga, and I cannot and will not address what Alabama is up to until the end of our season. That's all I can say."

Contrast that to: I guess I have to say it, I will not be the Alabama coach.

Sure the media pressed you -- it's their job -- but you said it.

However this went down, Darlington has learned something.

"You guys can't use this," means don't share the tape. Sure, tell the story to your witty pals, but the tape is off limits. Maybe next time, you lean forward and hit the stop button. Takes a second. I've done it a hundred times.

Now, to the next layer of this story.

Today is the day Orlando Alzugaray of WQAM should be fired.

Did he hear "You guys can't use this," and decide it didn't apply to him because he wasn't there? Was an off-the-record anecdote by Saban, spiced by R-rated language, too juicy to ignore, especially with the whole NFL/media entourage in town for the Super Bowl?

What a choice: make a sensation for your station and burn Darlington to a crisp or play by honorable journalistic standards.

You chose wrong, Orlando.

This incident has given the media yet another black eye.

And before you get your chuckles and declare the media is getting what it deserves if Saban clamps down even further on media access with his Alabama program, just remember it's the information you often clamor for that might be affected.

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