Perception Differs from Reality at Alabama

With over-inflated expectations in Tuscaloosa, the phrase "Perception is Reality" couldn't be any less accurate when describing the situation at the University of Alabama.

Hoover, Ala.--Sabanmania has overwhelmed the state of Alabama since the announcement that Nick Saban would replace Mike Shula as the head coach at the University of Alabama on January 4. As the 2007 college football season inches closer and closer, the hype machine hasn't slowed a bit as Saban was the talk of the town at SEC Media Days in Hoover.

In day one of the three-day frenzy at the Wenfrey Hotel, Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville answered just as many questions about Alabama and its new staff as he did about his own team coming off an 11-2 season and a Cotton Bowl victory.

Saban isn't known for his tact when handling situations of late, whether it was racy jokes to reporters about the people of Louisiana or the way he left the Miami Dolphins. But on Thursday at media days, perhaps the Alabama media, the university media relations department and the Crimson Tide fans should take notice of how their new head coach handled himself.

He again addressed the decision to leave Miami and the once love now hate relationship from LSU fans. And he did it with savvy.

Saban also answered questions about expectations at Alabama and his answers were a bit different from what you might read in the newspaper from the beat writers. A recent article on, the Alabama site, predicted the Tide to finish ahead of Auburn in the West despite the Tigers dominating the series of late and having much better talent and overall program.

"Expectations are something that can be very, very positive," Saban explains. "But at the same time I think that you want to be realistic with the expectations you have relative to who you are, what you are and how you want to get there. It's great to be optimistic. It's probably not so good to be pessimistic, but it's best to be realistic."

And what is realistic for a first-year coach at a program that has had just three winning seasons since 2000 and has been dominated by rivals Tennessee, LSU and Auburn?

"I think if you assess," Saban says, "we had a 6-7 team last year. You know who's coming back and what starters. We're going to win with people and our ability to develop those people to their full potential… That's something that we're going to work to build."

At the same time Saban is stressing that it will take substantial building to turn the Tide back into a winner, the downstairs lobby of the Wynfrey is packed full of fans dressed in Crimson. A "Roll Tide" cheer even breaks out. As evidence by grown men taking off work to bring a magic marker and a football in hopes of an autograph and 92,000-plus attending a spring scrimmage, the Saban hype has gotten way out of hand.

Bama fans hoping to get a glimpse or maybe even shake hands with their new coach.

Though too thin in talent to compete for an SEC championship this season, the Crimson Tide has several talented seniors who have put their blood and sweat into Alabama football like Simeon Castille, D.J. Hall, Keith Brown or Wallace Gilberry. So who's on the cover of the media guide? Nick Saban. Who's on the back page of the media guide? Nick Saban. Every team in the SEC, with the exception of Mississippi State which has a helmet on the front cover, features players on the front and players on the players on the back.

"I would really rather have the players on there, to be honest with you," Saban says. "I can promise you after this first year, which I guess we're promoting the program that we bring, the positive energy that we try to bring to the program, that's something that is going to be the focus and emphasis in the future. It's not philosophical on my part. I didn't even make that decision."

There's no argument that Saban turned the LSU program into a national contender from 2000-2004. He won SEC titles in 2001 and 2003 and a national championship. But in his first season at LSU when the program was in very similar shape to the current situation at Alabama, his Tigers struggled and even lost a home game to UAB.

There's a reason why Alabama has had a league record of eight coaches in the last 22 years.

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