Saban Acting On Discipline Problems

Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban touched on a number of issues in a press conference Monday, but the one he wished to talk about least – Tide players making bad decisions -- dominated discussion.

Alabama begins spring football practice in about two-and-a-half weeks and Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban met with the media in what would ordinarily be a session to talk about football. There was some of that, but for the most part the conversation was about what Saban agreed is "a problem." Bama players are too much in the headlines for non-football reasons.

Although he has not been arrested, one Bama starter has been suspended for a violation of team rules. Upcoming junior middle linebacker Prince Hall, who has started most of the past two seasons, is not taking part in the off-season program and will not participate in spring practice. Saban said his Alabama football future would be determined at a later date.

Saban equated the many problems of his football team to those in a family. He said the solution is not to "kick out" the transgressors, but rather to address the issues and attempt to correct bad behavior and learn from it. He said that last year's team had players miss a total of 30 games because of suspensions. "That may be an NCAA record," he said. [It's not.] And he added, "It looks like we're headed there again." [Prediction: That won't happen.]

The coach had previously announced the suspension of freshman defensive end Jeremy Elder, who has been charged with armed robbery. Tuesday Saban said Elder had been dismissed from the team and had withdrawn from The University.

Although Saban made it clear he was disappointed that team captain Rashad Johnson had been arrested last weekend on a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct in a bar in the early morning hours, he said that Johnson had done far more good than bad and his behavior did not warrant suspension.

Saban said there would be continued dialogue with the community and The University as the football program worked to improve its image by eliminating inappropriate decisions. The coach said he supports the NCAA mandate to have athletes live as regular students, but hinted that some restrictions might be placed on football players. As he pointed out, only one Alabama student who was arrested on the strip last week had his name in the national news and in newspapers throughout Alabama.

The coach said athletes "need to know when to walk away and keep their mouths shut. They need to be respectful of people in authority. That's been the biggest problem."

Saban also discussed promotions for two of his assistant coaches on defense, the outlook for the offense under a new offensive coordinator, the off-season program, and the injury situation going into spring drills.

Alabama has an interruption in its spring practice schedule this year. The Tide will practice March 13 and March 14, then be off during The University's spring break the week of March 16. Practice resumes March 24. The A-Day Game at 2 p.m. CDT on Saturday, April 12, at Bryant-Denny Stadium, will be the 14th practice. The 15th and final practice will be Monday, April 14.

Saban said he is pleased with the progress of the off-season program, the Fourth Quarter regimen of strength and conditioning that has been going for a couple of weeks.

The coach said that it is important to build a good football team, but said it "doesn't happen in a day. It's like climbing a mountain, and right now we're at base camp."

He said that some members of the recently-recruiting class of newcomers might play a part in the "depth" of the 2008 team, but said he would not speculate on which ones. As for now, he said, those players are participating in other high school spots and making plans for the prom "as they should be."

The coach said that he had given promotions to two members of the defensive staff. Kevin Steele was promoted from defensive coordinator to associate head coach and head defensive coach. Secondary Coach Kirby Smart has been given the title of defensive coordinator. Both assistants were courted by other colleges, and Saban said he took steps to keep both of them. Saban said that Steele would be in charge of fronts and Smart would develop coverages, and that final decisions would go through Saban. Saban works with cornerbacks in practice joked that he would maintain his title of the nation's highest-paid graduate assistant coach in that regard.

He said he was pleased with how new Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain had fit in with the staff. Saban said he did not expect significant changes in things like offensive terminology, although he said a play might have the same name as before and be run in a slightly different way.

Saban announced that veteran coach Tim Davis, whom Saban hired from Southern Cal to coach with him at the Miami Dolphins, would be joining the Bama staff as director of player personnel. That position had been held by Geoff Collins, who recently accepted a job as linebackers coach at Central Florida.

On the injury front, Saban confirmed rumors that two offensive linemen had been forced to give up football because of injuries. B.J. Stabler (knee) and Cody Davis (shoulder) will be put on medical scholarships.

The big health question regards linebacker Zeke Knight, who was hospitalized a few weeks ago. Saban said Knight continues to undergo medical testing and is not participating in the off-season program.

Otherwise, Saban's report on the Alabama injured was generally positive. He said he expected some 11 players who had been injured and undergone off-season surgery to be able to participate in spring practice. They include:

Running back Glen Coffee (shoulder), running back Terry Grant (sports hernia), running back Roy Upchurch (thumb), running back Demetrius Goode (knee), offensive lineman Patrick Crump (knee), transfer tight end Colin Peek (knee), linebacker Rolando McClain (thumb and wrist), linebacker Jimmy Johns (knee), defensive end Milton Talbert (shoulder), punter Heath Thomas (thumb) and snapper Paul Silvey (knee).

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