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National Columnist

Boy, that guy Saban takes this whole bully pulpit thing literally

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What Nick Saban wants is help coaching his football team, and he wants that help from the media. Hey, that's what he said Wednesday, when he lectured the media about being too nice to his football team. Which is ironic, seeing how Nick Saban has never -- far as I can tell -- been accused of being too nice to anyone. How would he know what "too nice" looks like?

And why would a man get so angry about a series of compliments, anyway? There's no answer for that, no answer other than, "Well, when the man is Nick Saban ..."

And then it starts to make sense.

Nick Saban is a man with no sense of time or place, or even reality. He's the guy who famously turned down an invitation to dine with President Bush in July 2006 because he wanted to focus on training camp with the Miami Dolphins. The dinner would have been in Miami, by the way. Saban didn't have to fly to Washington. Just drive to Joe's Stone Crabs. But, no. He was in training camp.

That's the man we're talking about, so it's no big shock that this is the man we're talking about -- this man who walked into the media room after Alabama's football practice Wednesday and tore into the reporters for being too nice to Alabama.

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It was a bully move, and a bully should never get away with it. Not ever, not if there's a chance to call him on it, explain to him -- and to everyone else -- that what he did was wrong and unfair. Not if there's a chance to embarrass him as he embarrassed others, not that Nick Saban strikes me as the type to get embarrassed about much. A man who would turn down a meeting with the president to watch a July football practice isn't the sort of man with the ability to peer deep within himself.

A man like Nick Saban isn't all that deep at all.

He stalked into the media room Wednesday and stood behind the microphone -- this man with a contract worth tens of millions, glaring at reporters making tens of thousands -- and then lashed out at a group of working people that he knew couldn't lash back.

"How is everybody today?" Saban asked.

Came the usual answers: Fine. Good. Etc.

"You might not be after I get done with you."

So it started. What followed was a harangue of miniature proportion -- Saban acting so ridiculous, so small, that it's embarrassing to watch.

So please, by all means, watch this guy for yourself.

Alabama fans will excuse it because he's their coach, and he's quite possibly the best coach in college football. We all understand, Alabama fans. As long as Nick Saban makes you happy on Saturday, you'll defend him the other six days of the week. Nobody's surprised, nobody's fooled, nobody's impressed.

As for Saban himself? Nobody's surprised, Nick. Nobody's fooled.

Nobody's impressed.

Understand, Saban didn't momentarily lose control Wednesday night. This was planned. Go back and look at the video. What do you see? Saban starts off wearing reading glasses, glancing down at notes on the podium, as he tears into the media for having the gall -- the nerve -- to anoint Alabama as the No. 1 team in college football after dismantling No. 8 Michigan a few days earlier.

"To make presumptions like you all make -- really, really upsets me," Saban said. "It's so unfair. You don't need to write about that. There's so many other good things happening around here that people would be interested in."

At this, Saban's voice starts to rise. He's not acting. He's legitimately angry.

"I'd love to see you people do a little bit of research, and figure it out."

Figure out what, exactly? That Alabama isn't the best team in college football? That Western Kentucky from the Sun Belt has a chance in hell Saturday? Western Kentucky has no chance on Saturday. Not in Tuscaloosa, where the game will be played. Not anywhere else. No chance. None. And Saban explained why, unwittingly, when he was asked about Western Kentucky's best defensive player and he answered, "He's an SEC player, no doubt."

Western Kentucky has one SEC player, maybe a few more. Alabama has roughly 85 of them. This game will be a blowout, no matter what the media writes, no matter how fired up Western Kentucky gets this week, no matter how content and unmotivated Alabama looks at practice.

And that's the problem, of course. Alabama had a lousy practice, by Saban's standards, Wednesday, so lousy that the media could tell. "More four-letter words were flying at this practice than we heard the entire month of August," according to this report.

Saban blamed the bad practice on the media.

"Man, it's work every day around here to try to keep our guys on track to have a little bit of humility and confidence," he said. "We win one game, and I can't believe what gets written."

When he opened it up to questions, Saban took one look around the room and offered a sly smile, the kind of smile a fifth-grader might give a fly before plucking its wings.

"So," Saban said with that stupid grin, "does anybody want to ask me a question or not? I'm trying to be nice about it, too."

Here from a reporter came a softball, something about the belief that a team generally makes its biggest improvement from week one to week two and --

Saban interrupted.

"Based on the way we practiced today and the attitude around here and what gets written and what everybody thinks, I would question whether that's happened or not."

Based on what gets written ...

So it's our fault, Saban was saying. Well, he decided, no it's not.

"It's my responsibility," he said. "It's nobody else's but mine."

Then what was that other stuff? The stuff that gets written, the presumptions we make, the lack of research? What about that?

Nobody asked those questions, of course, and I'm not down on the reporters in that room. They're beat writers, people who can't afford to pick a fight with the head coach of the No. 1 program in the country. They need access. They need Saban -- and he knows it. That's why it was such a bully move. He had the power in the room. And he had the microphone. And when it was over, when his usual 20-minute news conference was over in little more than five minutes, Saban had this to say:

"I didn't mean to intimidate y'all today," he said. "I just had to take it out on somebody."

Bullies always do.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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