Phillip Marshall: Football, Hoops Ramblings

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at several of the most intriguing stories of the week.

Nick Saban has been reminded of an unfortunate truth for college football coaches in big-time programs. Anything you say can come back to haunt you.

Saban's use of a term for Louisiana Cajuns that some consider derogatory has been a national story the last couple of days. He shouldn't have said it and I'm sure he wishes he hadn't said it, but he did. That was a mistake, but it has been followed by more mistakes.

Having listened to the tape, there is no doubt in my mind that Saban was joking and believed he was off the record when he was talking to reporters from Miami on the day he was introduced as Alabama's coach.

A Miami Herald reporter who taped the interview must have realized it was off the record. He didn't write in his newspaper. But he sent it to a friend who hosts radio talk shows in Miami and Mobile. It went out on the air.

The reporter clearly was out of line and has been disciplined. But Saban made things worse by issuing a statement in an attempt to explain himself. That, really, is when it became a national story.

Sometimes it's better just to be quiet.

All of us who make a living in this business must deal with just what "off the record" means and when a statement is off the record and when it isn't.

If a coach, for instance, is making a public speech, nothing he says qualifies as being off the record. He might try to say something is off the record, but you can't tell 500 people something and then tell a reporter in attendance that he can't report what you said.

But in private conversations or in interviews with small groups, things are different. If someone tells you, before he makes a statement, that it is off the record, you are obliged to honor that and not report it unless you tell that person that you won't honor it. Where things get tricky is when a statement is clearly meant to be off the record but is not specified as being off the record.

From what I heard, that's where the story Saban told Miami reporters in an attempt at humor falls.

It's not good for those on either side for coaches to believe they have to watch every word for fear it will become public. The news business – sports or otherwise – is a delicate balancing act between reporters and those on whom we report.

A reporter has to keep a certain distance, yet he or she also must have a relationship that makes it possible to gather information. There must be some mutual trust.

I have had many friends over the years among those who I have covered, and I still do. Some in my profession would say that's not a good thing, but I disagree. It's only a bad thing if you allow your professionalism or your objectivity to be compromised.

As for Saban, he made a mistake. He's paying for it in damage to his image. The reporter made a mistake in sharing the tape with another news outlet when he had not reported it in his own newspaper, though he says never thought it would be made public. He's paying for it, too.

A coach and a reporter have learned hard lessons, lessons they should already have learned.

It's embarrassing for all concerned...

You could have probably won a lot of money placing a bet that Auburn's basketball team would be in first place in the West Division at the halfway point of the Southeastern Conference season.

But today, that's where the Tigers sit.

Frankly, I thought whatever chance Auburn had for making noise in the SEC would be in the second half. The first half of their league schedule, on paper, was considerable tougher than the second half. Now, at 4-4 in the league, the Tigers have at least a fighting chance at doing something special this season.

If they go 4-4 again, they'll be assured of an NIT bid and will be in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament bid. If they go 5-3, they should be in field of 65.

And if that happens, Jeff Lebo should be SEC Coach of the Year...

I don't know where Auburn's football recruiting class will be ranked nationally and don't really care. There might be something less important than where a bunch of people who never coached a game rank recruiting classes, but I can't think of what it would be right off hand.

What I know is that Auburn's coaches believe this class could be the best they have ever signed...

Alabama's women's basketball team is one of the least talented I have ever seen in the SEC. The Tide, a 93-61 loser at Auburn on Thursday night, has a real chance to go 0-14 in the league.

Nell Fortner, on the other hand, has done a terrific job of rebuilding Auburn's talent base. There was no comparison Thursday night in terms of skill and athleticism. Yet, the Tigers had lost their three previous SEC home games to teams they probably should have beaten.

And the toughest part of their schedule is ahead.

Until next time...

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