Richt shuts down practice to media

ATHENS – Georgia fans can relax this week, because Alabama coach Nick Saban didn't pick up any shady scouting techniques from his old boss Bill Belichick, Saban said Monday.

Belichick, the New England Patriots head coach, was fined $500,000 last week by the NFL after the league determined he violated rules by authorizing an employee to videotape the defensive hand signals of the New York Jets.

"We didn't do those kind of things when I was working with him, and that's all I can comment about," said Saban, who worked as Belichick's defensive coordinator for four seasons with the Cleveland Browns.

"I hear people say in the business world sometimes, ‘We're always trying to create a winning edge,'" Saban said. "I think in sports we'd all like to try to do that, but we all have to be careful that we always try to do that with total respect to the rules."

Saban's Miami Dolphins team created a minor ruckus last year when more than one of his players said the Dolphins watched broadcasts of an opponent's quarterback to determine the quarterback's snap count and disrupt him at the line of scrimmage.

The opponent? The New England Patriots. Tom Brady was sacked four times and threw for only 78 yards that day as Miami won 21-0. The NFL ruled Miami's extra game preparation violated no rules.

What's ethical and what's not during the course of a game is a gray area in college football, said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who, just to be on the safe side maybe, has closed his team's practices this week. The No. 22 Bulldogs (2-1, 0-1 SEC) take on the No. 16 Crimson Tide (3-0, 2-0) Saturday at 7:45 p.m. in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Pretty much anything that doesn't rely on technology is OK with Richt, he said.

"If I'm on offense and I'm signaling plays, and they've got a coach in the booth trying to watch the signals, and by the second quarter they crack the code, I think that's probably OK," he said. "If somebody did that to us, I wouldn't be too mad. If they filmed it ahead of time, I think everybody would get upset about that."

The NCAA agrees with Richt. It prohibits teams from having TV equipment in the stadium during games and says no moving pictures or computers can be used for coaching purposes during a game. (Richt doesn't know if Georgia's coaches in the press box watch other teams to try and determine their signals, he said.)

"I don't think anybody can respect anybody trying to gain an unfair advantage by breaking rules," Saban said.

Still, coaching is a business of paranoids, and it's not rare for coaches to feel like an opponent has swiped their signals somehow, Richt said. When Richt is feeling particularly jumpy, he'll issue his team wristbands with a number for each play. The numbers comes in from the sideline and the quarterback checks his wristband and calls out the play.

"I've had first half wristbands and second half wristbands," he said. "You just never know. I've done that in some big games. If we got real paranoid, we would give everybody on the team a wristband."

The Bulldogs rarely if ever used wristbands when Richt was calling the plays, he said, but they use them now with Mike Bobo in charge of the offense. Who knows to what lengths they might go this week with a Belichick disciple running the opponent's program.

Belichick "will push the envelope and do what he can to help his team win," Saban said, "but I've never known him to do anything that was not ethical. Certainly not when I coached with him."

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