Saban Refreshing To Media

Some of you see snippets of press conferences of college football coaches. Some of you watch selected media briefings or press conferences in their entirety. You have an idea what they're like.

Typically they're relatively innocuous exchanges between reporters and coaches -- How was practice? Who was injured? How did the running backs look? -- with occasional gold-nugget sound bytes and genuine reflections by the coach.

Around The University of Alabama the last four years, football press conferences had grown almost exclusively into tiresome exchanges with very little news value. An exception: when someone you folks at 'BAMA Magazine know well asked Mike Shula if a description of his offense as ``fundamentally flawed'' was accurate.

Shula's response: ``Fundamentally ... flawed?'' revealed his lack of nimble thinking. Within five weeks of that exchange, Shula was holding a pink slip.

These are new days around the Mal M. Moore complex.

In new football coach Nick Saban, the media has a man who has opinions, stories, anecdotes and he's bursting with personality.

Sure the guy can get testy, he can slice off a questioner at the knees, he can be totally brusque. But after the endless drone that has emanated from this building for month upon month, I'll assure you the media -- and as an extension, the public -- will be better served with this new regime, even if Saban is in front of the microphones as representative of Alabama football 75 or 80 per cent of the time.

I will continue to maintain that Saban could have, and should have, handled the probing questions about the Alabama job from the Miami media (who were simply trying to do their jobs) in a better fashion. The national media might not ever forget or forgive the much-played ``Well, I guess I have to say it. I'm not going to be the Alabama coach'' byte because it's one of the very few clips of him they'll see and because it appears such a cut-and-dried indictment of his intentions.

I won't launch here into a defense of where Saban's mind was at that moment in time. But I will say that in Saban's media moments since he indeed did become the Alabama coach, I'm starting to gain some insight into his personality and why those uncomfortable exchanges with the media took place.

Saban seems compelled to actually answer questions.

He works in an industry where ducking, dodging and misleading is a comfortable domain, much like it is in the political arena.

Saban might raise a fuss over certain questions, and I'm not talking about ``evaluations, predictions and comparisons,'' which he abhors, but we in the media have found he generally comes back and provides some sort of answer in the true context and spirit of the question.

Refreshing.

Saban comes across as a little condescending and self-serving at times, but as a man who has raised the crystal football, doesn't he have the right to speak like a man who knows what he's talking about?

He also gives the media (and again, as an extension, the public) credit for a solid working knowledge of football schemes.

Speaking for myself, I enjoy and appreciate the personal anecdotes he has related thus far. As an example, he told a story earlier this week about asking Buddy Ryan's advice in the early 1990s about moving from a coordinator to head coach.

Saban's innate self-assuredness soaked through the narrative. Ryan told him that when he became a head coach he lost his top assistant -- himself. Saban, knowing he was primed for a head coaching role by that point, took the advice to heart and subsequently retained his ``hands on'' approach when taking the big reins at Michigan State and right up until today.

No doubt the media here in Alabama will have its difficult moments with Saban and his media policies as this program marches ahead.

In the here and now I embrace the concept that press conferences can actually be productive and enlightening.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat reporter for the Mobile Register. He is a contributor to ‘BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com.


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