HOOVER, Ala. – Far be it for me to steer attention away from an important issue like sports agents trying to recruit impressionable young men as their future clients, especially when said student-athletes clearly are in the middle of summer school classes as they work toward their doctoral thesis and certainly have no time to go to South Beach for a party.
But exactly when did Nick Saban become so concerned about sports agents, or, as he calls them: “pimps.”
Because I certainly don’t remember him speaking out when Reggie Bush helped get Southern Cal thrown into the NCAA’s penitentiary. And I don’t remember him saying anything when an Alabama player, Antonio Langham, took money from agent back in 1993. Just wondering: Was he upset a few days ago when he heard reports that a Florida player, Maurkice Pouncey, might have taken $100,000 from an agent. Because maybe we all missed that.
Saban has been coaching football for a lot of years and for a lot of teams, college and pro. This issue of agents preying on college players isn’t new. It predates 8-tracks. So it must just be an amazing coincidence that the Alabama coach is only now speaking so passionately about this issue, the day after his best defensive player, Marcell Dareus, was reported to be on an agent’s party list in Miami.
What prompts a coach generally so guarded in public to say of agents, “How are they any better than a pimp”? (and that should go over well with Saban’s agent, who was pimping the coach to NFL teams, including the Falcons, when Saban was still at LSU and then back to the SEC when he was with the Miami Dolphins, for roughly 10 minutes).
And what do we call it when Saban, in expressing how this issue affects everybody in the big picture, has an epiphany: “Maybe we need to not be so self-absorbed about how it just affects us and the NFL and see how it affects everyone and do something about it.” Because somehow “ironic” or “disingenuous” just don’t seem strong enough. (Breaking news: Elvis living on Neptune, and Nick Saban wants what’s best for everybody.)
Truth is, if you want to know why Saban is such a successful college football coach, this is reason No. 1. So many coaches know Xs and Os. So many can recruit. So many can sell their program and schmooze the mom and spot talent from a mile away and with the lights turned off.
Not every coach can do the things that really separate a program from the pack. Not every coach can motivate players like Saban or so flawlessly distract to his benefit by overinflating a storyline. A year ago, Alabama was coming off a great season but not nearly great enough. The Crimson Tide went through the regular season undefeated, but then lost to Florida in the SEC title game and got drilled by Utah in the Sugar Bowl.
Saban seized on that ending. He told everybody that Alabama had accomplished nothing. Nothing! He wouldn’t let his players forget the loss to Florida all season. By the time of last year’s SEC title game rematch, Alabama players were ready to run through cinder block. They steamrolled Florida like they were Ball State.
Now comes this: a sports agent reportedly hosted a gathering this summer. Players from Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina have been connected to reports. But Saban’s pyrotechnics have created bigger headlines. Stories of Alabama trying to repeat as national champions have faded. Even Dareus is an afterthought. Brilliant.
Saban kept referring to what agents do as “entrapment.” Really? Was the agent wired or disguised as a plumber?
He said if the NFL doesn’t do something about this, his “hospitality” of opening practices to scouts might stop. That should go over well with his players, who want to play in the NFL.
At one point, Saban, who obliterated the college coaches’ salary ceiling when he signed with Alabama in 2007, said with almost a sigh: “I think most everything gets a little bit about money somewhere along the way.”
Yes, Nick. A crushing realization.
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