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Your Thursday Morning Saban Update… And What Alabama Officials Got All Wrong

the-nick-saban-statue-will-see-you-in-hellGood morning.  Wondering about the latest on Nick Saban?  Well, there’s nothing but silence emanating from the coach, his agent, Alabama or Texas officials at the moment.

No surprise there.  As we wrote yesterday, Saban and Jimmy Sexton know that you don’t sign a new contract extension until you’ve let your current employer sweat a little bit.  Oh, it’s a jackass thing to do, sure, but it’s also how 99.9% of coaches operate.  “Hey, I love it here.”  “Great, sign the contract.”  “I don’t want to start somewhere new.”  “Great, sign the contract.”  “Sorry, gotta get off the phone… I’m meeting a recruit right now.”  “Great, sign…”  “Talk soon.”  Dial tone.

Reports yesterday suggested Saban didn’t actually have a contract on his desk.  Instead he had an “offer of commitment” from UA officials (whatever that is) to make him the highest-paid football coach in the college game.  Of course, he already is the highest-paid coach in the game so maybe that’s Alabama’s way of saying they’ll pay more than whatever Texas offers.

Asked about his coach’s contract situation yesterday, Alabama AD Bill Battle said that Saban and Bama are “focused on recruiting and playing Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.”  Not a lot of info there.

So what about Bama quarterback AJ McCarron?  “To me, he’s not leaving.  That’s my personal opinion.”  McCarron then made it clear that he couldn’t speak for Saban.

Meanwhile, others are wondering if it would be the right move for Saban to jump from Alabama to Texas.  Still others are past that point, explaining why Saban should make the move.

Many seem to believe that if Saban leaves it will be because of two things.  One, Crimson Tide fans have gotten spoiled.  Not a stretch.  The coach’s wife recently gave an interview stating that Bama fans aren’t as appreciative as they should be. 

Two, Saban will never be as loved as Paul “Bear” Bryant.  Well, this one’s just silly.  Saban’s has already proven himself to be the best coach of this era.  He’s done so at two schools in the SEC which is a lot tougher top-to-bottom today than it was during Bryant’s day.  There are more teams to play.  More in-league games.  And a conference championship game to boot.  If Saban’s worried about Bryant’s shadow at this point then he’s simply got an inferiority complex.  And if he wants to be bigger than the Bear he should stick around and end his career in Tuscaloosa just as Bryant did.  (Toying with Tide fans’ emotions by refusing to nix these Texas rumors certainly won’t help him gain on the previous Bama legend.)

UA officials have already built a statue of Saban.  What more does he need to know that he’s loved?  Should Tide fans be forced to turn to it and pray daily.  (Some probably already do.)

Which brings us to UA’s big mistake in all of this — Never build a statue to the living.  We’ve written this before.  Anyone remember Joe Paterno’s statue — one finger pointing out from under a canvas — being hauled off by truck amid Penn State’s scandal?

Humans are, well, human.  They let us down.  They lie, cheat, and steal.  They make dumb decisions.  And, yes, they can leave you even after you’ve built a statue to them.

If Saban packs up and leaves town — we still don’t believe he will — just how stupid will that statue look?  We realize that all championship-winning football coaches get a statue at UA, but imagine how much safer it would have been to put it up after Saban had departed for that great gridiron in the sky?  Or at least after he had retired?

Now if the coach takes off, 24-hour security will have to be put around the Saban carving.  Outraged Tide fans will topple it like Saddam Hussein’s statue in Iraq.

Hopefully it won’t come to that.  Saban is good for Alabama and he’s great for the SEC.  And, though no one seems to care about it, there’s still not officially an open job for Saban to jump to in Austin.  Mack Brown may resign today at a bowl game presser, but that would be an odd spot for such an announcement.  So while we all try to figure out if Saban will move to Texas or not… we might oughta slow down and see if/when Brown actually walks the plank.

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Report: UA Staff Member Provided Impermissible Benefits To Clinton-Dix

mrsec-breaking-newsSuspended Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix received impermissible benefits from assistant strength and conditioning coach Corey Harris, according to a report from TideSports.com.

Harris, who has been placed on administrative leave, was also found to have a connection to a representative of a sports agent, according to the report. From TideSports:

Harris made a short-term loan to Clinton-Dix in an amount less than $500 at some point in the summer, an apparent violation of NCAA Bylaw 16.11.2.2, which states that “an institutional employee or representative of the institution’s athletics interests may not provide a student-athlete with extra benefits or services, including, but not limited to … a loan of money.” Clinton-Dix has provided bank records to UA athletic compliance department representatives that show a withdrawal in the amount he said he repaid to Harris, TideSports.com has learned.

Alabama coach Nick Saban announced Wednesday that Clinton-Dix has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.

“I don’t know for how long this will be, so don’t ask me that either,” Saban said.

Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated doesn’t expect the suspension of Clinton-Dix to last long. But that might not be the biggest concern for Alabama.

 

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Is A&M’s Manziel That Good Or Is Bama’s Defense Not As Good As 2012? Yes

johnny-manziel-decks-bama-playerWrap your minds around these numbers, sports fans:

 

*  28-of-39 passing for 464 yards

*  Five touchdown passes (against two interceptions)

*  14 rushes for 98 additional yards

*  A 562-yard one-man performance as part of a 628-yard day overall

 

Even if you hadn’t already seen the highlights and box score from Saturday’s Johnny Manziel show, you would have likely guessed, “Johnny Football!” if asked what college football player had posted such eye-popping numbers.  But would anyone have guessed those digits had come against top-ranked Alabama?

Unlikely.

So the verdict from Saturday: Manziel looks just as good — if not better — than he did a year ago.  An offseason of tweets and autographs hasn’t held back Texas A&M’s QB one iota when it comes to on-field performance.  In fact, Bama had all offseason to prepare for the Aggie superstar and it made no difference.  Spies.  Mush rush.  Good athletes.  All torched by Manziel’s remarkable touch on the ball and his fleet-footed escapability.

At the same time, the 2013 Alabama Crimson Tide haven’t looked a whole lot like the 2012 or 2011 BCS champion Tide… aside from that whole undefeated thing, of course.

If/when Kirby Smart finally decides to depart Tuscaloosa and seriously chase a head coaching job, don’t expect Bama’s performance in Saturday’s contest to be listed on his resume.  His defense — Alabama’s defense — was put to the sword to the tune of 464 yards passing and 164 yards rushing.  The Red Elephants were saved by two interceptions of Manziel, one of which was returned 73 yards for a touchdown on a fantastic run by Vinnie Sunseri.  In the end, that was enough for a 49-42 UA win.  (We took the Tide 35-28, for the record).

In Game One, Alabama’s offense struggled.  In Game Three, AJ McCarron and the Tide offense had to bail their defensive counterparts out.

Expect Nick Saban’s rebuilt defense to improve.  After all, there aren’t many one-man wrecking crews like Manziel dotting the college football landscape and we all know how well Bama has recruited in recent years.  But at this stage, Bama’s defense doesn’t look like its old self.  In last year’s 23-17 loss to Manziel and the Aggies, for example, Alabama allowed 19 fewer points and just 418 total yards of offense.  So, yes, there is reason for some concern in the UA football complex today.  You don’t yield 628 yards and laugh it off.

Even though Manziel really is that good.

On his best behavior Saturday, the biggest CBS football audience since 1990 fell in love with his skills all over again.  There is no player like him today.  Just as Tim Tebow and Cam Newton appeared to be “once in a generation” players, Manziel is the latest to wow America with “how’d he do that?” plays and moves.  Just imagine how much positive hype this kid would be getting had he not shared his every offseason move with half-a-million Twitter followers.

On Saturday, he erred in the turnover department — A&M lost that battle 2-1 after winning it 3-0 in last year’s matchup — but Manziel’s overall performance was coruscant considering the pre-game hype and the foe.  His 562 yards of total offense were the most ever racked up by an SEC player against an SEC defense.

So is Alabama’s defense not as good as it was in 2012?  Is Manziel really as good as he looked on Saturday?

Yes.  On both counts.

 

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The Hype For Alabama Grows And Grows, But The Tide’s Not Invincible

gfx - honest opinionIf you’re looking for a “sure thing,” Alabama’s football team would appear to be it.  Everyone from American sports fans to the media to all those title-crazed Tide backers in the Heart of Dixie is tabbing Bama as the heavy odds-on favorite to win both the Southeastern Conference and another BCS championship.  Another crown in 2013 would be the school’s third in a row and fourth in five years.

How big is the hype on the eve of the 2013 season?  Virginia Tech — Alabama’s opponent in Saturday’s opener — is considered to be a 20-point underdog (give or take a point) by most bookmakers.  The Hokies haven’t been that big of a dog since 1992.  (As we’ve pointed out, oh, so many times, the line show is designed to bring in an even amount of cash on both sides of a bet.  The huge line tells you that the Vegas bookies expect a lot of action on Alabama.)

Meanwhile, columnist Don Kausler — who’s departing Al.com — states that this year’s Tide team will boast “the greatest collection of offensive skill players in school history.”  That’s a heckuva statement considering the fact that Alabama’s collection of national titles already numbers in the teens.  UA has had some pretty good skill players in the past.

From The San Francisco Chronicle to The New York Daily News everyone is talking about Alabama’s dynasty and whether or not someone can upset the Crimson Tide this fall.

Short answer to that last question?  Yes, of course.

In 2011, Alabama scored just six points in a 9-6 home loss to LSU.  Nick Saban’s squad caught a break when Oklahoma State lost was upset late in the season to open the door for a title game rematch with Les Miles’ bunch, a rematch won easily by the Tide.

In 2012, UA pulled out a 21-17 road win in Baton Rouge on a 28-yard touchdown pass with just 51 seconds left to play.  The next week, Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M handed Alabama a 29-24 home loss.  Once again, Saban’s squad needed teams ahead of it to lose.  Once again that happened.  But before reaching the BCS title game, Alabama had to get past Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, which served as a de facto national semifinal.  Bama prevailed 32-28, but UGA was less than 10 yards away from paydirt as time expired.

The message should be clear: While Alabama has been dominant overall, they’ve still been beatable on a game to game basis.  That’s not to undercut what Saban and Alabama have accomplished.  When given breaks, they’ve taken advantage… which is exactly what championship teams do.

But Alabama hasn’t been an unbeatable.  The Crimson Tide machine might seem indestructible, but LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia have all pushed Saban’s team to the limit or beyond over the last two seasons.  So can someone do the same this year?  Certainly.  Alabama has experienced some turnover on defense and on its offensive line.  And the ball can take funny bounces.

Hey, there’s a reason fans, media and sports bettors are backing Alabama — they’re damn good with a damn good coach.  But it’s still a bit too early to be handing over another SEC title trophy and BCS crystal football.

 

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Smart Talks Hurry-Up; Numbers Suggest Bama’s “Struggles” Slightly Exaggerated

gfx - by the numbersEver since Texas A&M made Alabama’s defense look mortal last season, hurry-up offenses have been hailed as the chink in the Tide’s otherwise impregnable armor.  Unfortunately for the rest of college football, that theory appears to be a bit overblown.

“You guys have made a big deal about this up-tempo,” said Bama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart yesterday.  “Several teams in our league are very effective at it.  You’ve got to address the issue but it’s always been an issue.  For us, it’s more about how to get better at it more often.  Seven times in a year instead of two times in a year.”

Smart then added: “I’d still rather that than the triple-option Georgia Southern come running through here.”  The Eagles ran for 302 yards against Alabama in a 45-21 2011 loss.

While Texas A&M did hand the Crimson Tide its only defeat while using the hurry-up last season, the results for other fast-paced teams have been mixed:

 

*  Over the last three seasons, Alabama has faced six FBS teams that averaged more than 69 plays per game.  Of those six teams (Ole Miss, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas A&M last year as well as Duke and Mississippi State in 2010), only A&M scored a victory.  Of those five teams that lost, none of them scored more than 14 points.  (A&M scored 29 in their 29-24 win in Tuscaloosa last November.)

*  Since 2010, only seven FBS teams have managed to top their season average in plays-per-game against the Tide: LSU in 2012 (a UA win), Kent State and Penn State in 2011 (both UA wins), and Duke, Tennessee, LSU and Mississippi State in 2010 (only LSU beat Alabama).

*  Over the last three seasons, 16 FBS teams have managed to run 60 or more plays against Alabama (though not all of those teams ran a hurry-up).  Of those 16, only three won their games with the Tide (Texas A&M in 2012, LSU and Auburn in 2010).  On the flipside, that does mean that three of Alabama’s five losses since 2010 have come against teams that were able to get off 60+ plays.

*  Finally, those 16 FBS squads that managed to run 60+ plays versus Bama averaged just 13.1 points per game.  The 21 FBS schools who failed to hit the 60-play mark averaged just 9.3 points per game against the Tide.

 

Did Texas A&M have success in the hurry-up against Alabama?  Yes.  Georgia had some success going up-tempo only to lose 32-28 in the SEC Championship Game.  Ole Miss faired better than most with Hugh Freeze’s hurry-up, but the Rebels could still muster just 14 points against Alabama.

Texas A&M was a unique combination — a fast team with a tremendous quarterback who happened to catch Alabama after an emotional road win at LSU.  Other fast-paced teams haven’t been so lucky when battling Smart’s defense.  That might be why he doesn’t seem to be frenzied as the media when it comes to the “Bama versus the hurry-up” storyline.

“When teams go fast tempo there’s a lot of things they can’t do at the line,” Smart said.  “We try to create an advantage for us by being able to give them negative plays and I think if we can do that it can hurt them with their up-tempo.  We’re excited about the challenge of facing it.”

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Bama Plans To Tweak Saban’s Contract

nick-saban-money-bagsUniversity of Alabama football coach Nick Saban will have his contract “amended” and “restated” according to Al.com.  The Tide’s CEO had his contract amended/restated this time a year ago, too.  That rejiggering locked Saban into the Bama gig through 2019 and set his pay at an average of $5.6 million per year.

Saban visited the White House yesterday with his third Alabama national championship squad in four years.

The compensation committee of UA’s board of trustees will also likely dole out pay raises to Saban’s assistant coaches.

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Powell Says He’s Leaving Hogs For The NBA

Mike Anderson’s Arkansas basketball program has suffered a setback as one of this past season’s top Hogs has decided to stick his nose into the pro basketball money trough.  Hard to blame him.

Forward Marshawn Powell tweeted the following goodbye note yesterday:

 

powell tweet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Powell was Arkansas’ second-leading scorer, averaging 14.5 points per game to BJ Young’s 15.2.  No other Razorback averaged double-figures.  In terms of measurables, Powell finished #5 on our list of the SEC’s most productive basketball players this season.  The senior-to-be has already been on the Fayetteville campus for four years, taking a redshirt after a knee injury suffered just two games into the 2011-12 season.

The NBA website DraftExpress.com lists Powell as the #64 prospect among juniors which suggests the player’s move is tied more to getting a paycheck — any paycheck — than it is to his high draft status.

Anderson wished his protege well in an UA-released statement that was as much a “check him out, scouts” endorsement as it was a “so long” note:

 

“I wish Marshawn all the best as he moves on to the next stage of his basketball career.  He had a tremendous junior season after recovering from a knee injury and was a big part of the success that we had this season.  He is a skilled forward who can stretch the defense because of his ability to shoot.  He can also create by putting it on the floor and has a nice post up game.  I feel that his best basketball is in front of him.”

 

Powell can still return to Arkansas if he does not hire an agent.

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Bama To Hire Ex-Player, Businessman Battle As A.D.

bill-battleWell that didn’t take long.  And you can throw out all those candidate lists.  The University of Alabama has settled on a new athletic director already.  Indeed he’s an ex-Bama player and a former Tennessee employee.  But he’s not Dave Hart, he’s former Bear Bryant pupil and ex-Volunteer head football coach, Bill Battle.

The University of Alabama has put out a release this morning quoting school president Judy Bonner on Battle’s hiring:

 

“Over the past several weeks, we have had multiple conversations about who should follow Coach (Mal) Moore as AD.  Based on Mal’s strong endorsement as well as Coach Battle’s affiliation with UA as a player, partner and donor, his experience as a coach and his significant business background, I am confident that he is the right person to serve UA in this position.  I am looking forward to working with him as we continue to build on the foundation of excellence that is the hallmark of Coach Moore’s tenure.”

 

In Battle, Alabama has landed a tremendous businessman who happens to have a strong background in Crimson Tide and SEC athletics.  Battle formed Collegiate Licensing Company in 1981.  That company opened the door for colleges to begin protecting their logos and trademarks, which it turn led to the schools licensing out those marks for profit.  It was a brilliant move and Battle’s company was eventually purchased by sports giant IMG (along with another company Battle founded).

Battle said in the release that his “instinct was to say no” to the job when first approached.  After speaking with various officials at UA, however, he “couldn’t find a way to say no.”

The 71-year-old battle played at Alabama from 1960 through 1962.  He then served as an assistant at Army and Tennessee before being promoted to the Volunteers’ head coaching position in 1970.  At 28, he was the youngest coach of a major program in the country.  He had a career record of 59-22-2 at Tennessee, but the program declined on his watch and he was eventually fired in 1976.  He never coached again, but five years later, he began CLC and the rest… is history.

Given Battle’s age and his lack of experience running an athletic department, it’s expected that he will take over Moore’s duties which focused mainly on raising funds and improving facilities.  Shane Lyons will likely continue to handle the day-to-day operations of the UA athletic department.

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Saban Says New Bama A.D. “Not My Decision,” While UT’s Hart Says He’s Focused On Vols

nick-saban-blesses-the-massesNick Saban is the king of the state of Alabama these days.  He’s the leader of the pack when it comes to football coaches nationwide.  When he acts, others follow.  Saban rules the Southeastern Conference with a program that’s hiring support staff like an NFL franchise.

Yet with all that power, Saban says choosing a replacement for AD Mal Moore — who moved into another role with the school yesterday — isn’t his duty:

 

“I’m going to tell you that’s not my decision.  We have really, really good people here: Chancellors, presidents, other people in the athletic department, people on the board who I have every faith, trust and confidence will make an outstanding decision as to what’s best for the University of Alabama…

My part of it will be to do everything I can to make it work with whoever that individual is.  Don’t ask me.  That’s all I’m going to say about it because I don’t really know anything about it.  I’m not going to call the chancellor and ask him what call to make on third down.  Or the president.”

 

In addition, Saban said he wouldn’t “want to try” to take on the AD job while still coaching.  He didn’t, however, close the door on the idea of becoming the Tide athletic director at some point down the road… something that will now be held over the head of whoever Bama hires.

“I don’t think that I would ever be happy if I wasn’t doing something,” the 61-year-old coach said.  “I know Miss Terry would not be happy if I wasn’t doing something because I’d drive her nuts in a week.”

One name that’s bound to be kicked around is that of a man who worked with Saban up until the start of the 2011 season.  On the job as Tennessee’s athletic director for a year-and-a-half at this point, former Tide basketball player Dave Hart served as UA’s “executive director of athletics” and ran Bama’s day-to-day operations while Moore focused more on fundraising and facilities.

Asked about the situation on Knoxville’s WNML-AM/FM yesterday, Hart provided the boilerplate non-denial denial that coaches (and ADs) give when a job comes open elsewhere:

 

“My focus is purely here.  We’re making a lot of progress.  I’m excited about the progress we’re making here and my total focus is on continuing to be privileged to serve as vice chancellor and director of athletics at Tennessee.”

 

For now at least.

But Hart’s name is still the first mentioned by al.com on its list of potential candidates for the job.  The list also includes the man who replaced Hart in running the daily operations of UA athletics, Shane Lyons.  Former Tide footballer and current Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is listed as a possibility as well, though The Baltimore Sun newspaper called a potential departure by Newsome “a major long shot.”

Finally, former NFL assistant, current Senior Bowl executive director, and current UA radio analyst Phil Savage is also on al.com’s list.

 

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Alabama A.D. Moore To Step Down

mrsec-breaking-newsJust a week after being hospitalized with heart issues, Alabama athletic director Mal Moore has decided to leave his current post immediately.  The 73-year-old Moore has been the head of the Crimson Tide athletic department since 1999.

In a statement released this afternoon Moore said: “Due to factors related to my health, I am at a point I can no longer fulfill my duties as athletics director.”

Moore will take on the role of “special assistant” to UA president Judy Bonner.  Speculation over who will replace Moore in the athletic director’s chair will now commence.

From 2008 through September of 2011, Alabama grad Dave Hart served as the “executive director of athletics” alongside Moore.  From 2009 through his departure he was actually in charge of day-to-day operations of the UA athletic department while Moore turned his attention to fundraising.  Hart left Alabama to become the AD at Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee in 2011.

 

UPDATE — We have been contacted by the University of Alabama and asked to change the initial wording of our story.  We wrote that “Mal Moore has decided to resign from his current post immediately.”  Then we wrote that will he take on a new role of “special assistant” to UA’s president (which is unchanged).  Apparently saying he resigned one spot to take another was too much for Bama officials to bear — hey, a pun — so we’ve changed it.  Now we say he’s decided to “leave” his current post immediately.  Either way, health issues have forced Moore to step down from the top of the Alabama athletic department and take on a new advisory role with the school.

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