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Friday, 01 May 2009

Saban is right about fans

 I was talking with a colleague the other day about where Nick Saban ranks, already, among Alabama coaches.

 Obviously, he hasnít won national championships, as did Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Gene Stallings and, of course, Paul Bryant. He hasnít even won an SEC Championship yet, and one of his two seasons was just barely a winning season.

 For my part, Iíd still put him below all of those coaches, but he certainly will have the opportunity to pass all of them, with the likely exception of Bryant. However, what Saban has done off the field makes the debate a little more interesting than it probably should be.

 I donít think any of Alabamaís previous coaches became the immediate national lightning rod that Saban became upon taking the job. Maybe Bryant would have, after leaving Texas A&M, if only there were a million messageboards and blogs to record his every move and analyze every word he said.

 Saban was peppered with questions about Alabama while still coaching the Miami Dolphins, and his denials made him, in the eyes of many pundits, a liar. I donít know enough about how Saban handled things before he got to Alabama, but ever since heís had a very confrontational relationship with the media. The result of that has been a similarly confrontational relationship between the media and Alabama fans.

 Watch a Saban press conference, and at times it looks like he has no respect whatsoever for the reporters in the room. His treatment of them borders on rude at times. Yet Saban usually will make a point to actually say that he does respect what the reporters do, and many times heíll kid and joke with them like they are best buddies.

 The fans get a kick out of it when Saban calls down a reporter, because in their eyes the reporter is always out of line. To the fan, Saban is always right.

 What happens, though, when itís the fans Saban is calling out?

 Thatís what happened a few times this spring. Saban referred to the expectations at Alabama as a ďcultural problemĒ after an early practice session, saying that the players had the same problem as the fans with understanding that being a great program is a (wait for it) process. Winning 12 games again isnít going to be easy just because they did it last year, or because Alabama has been a great program in the past.

 Later, he made the point a couple of times that the fans had great ďpositive energyĒ for the first 13 games of Alabamaís 2008 season. After the SEC Championship Game, the fans were so disappointed to be playing Utah in the Sugar Bowl and not a national title. From Sabanís point of view, the apathy of the fan base infected his players, and the result was embarrassing.

 Saban is absolutely right.

 Now, Iíve always believed that the media is unfair to the Alabama fan base on the subject of expectations. When Alabama is good and the fans are excited, their expectations are unreasonable and the fans have all lost their mind.

 When Alabama is down and the fans seemingly understand, they get called out for not having high expectations anymore. They canít win with the media, but they shouldnít try.

 They can win with Saban. Heís dead on that the Alabama fans always expect to win, and they expect to win because they always have. That simply doesnít fly in the real world, and it doesnít fly with Saban. Alabama fans should expect to win because Saban and his staff have recruited the best players, and those players have worked extremely hard to be even better.

 They arenít going to win every time, and thatís okay too. But their work should be appreciated, even if they are playing a no-name team in a game that isnít for the national championship.

 Positive energy is contagious, and any team deserves it from its fans.


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