National Columnist

Saban's best option to kill the NFL rumors? Not say anything

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Shut up, Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

Look at this nobody writer, disrespecting to Nick Saban!

To the contrary -- I'm not being disrespectful at all. I'm trying to help the man by telling Saban something that none of the sycophants in his life, starting with the athletic director at Alabama, would say. So I'll say it here, in an effort to be helpful:

Shaddup, Saban. Stop talking. When someone asks you about leaving Alabama for the NFL, zip it. Don't say a word, because words don't work.

Words have never worked. Not in this situation. Not for Saban, not for new Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen, not for longtime Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo. Not for anybody. Anywhere. Ever. So please, Nick Saban, do yourself a favor and shut up about Cleveland.

That's where he's rumored to be going, you see. That's where he's been rumored to be going for weeks, since another rumor started in Boston about the Browns hiring former NFL executive Michael Lombardi -- who (rumor has it) would likely fire coach Pat Shurmur and bring in someone he knows, someone (rumor has it) like Nick Saban. That's how these things start, one rumor leading to another, to another, to another, and pretty soon you have a fan base like the one at Alabama wondering what's going on and a coach like Nick Saban trying to say he's staying at Alabama while leaving himself -- in his own mind, anyway -- just enough wiggle room to go without feeling like a liar.

Saban has done this before, with spectacular results. When he was coaching the Dolphins in 2006 and rumors linked him to Alabama, Saban did the Coachspeak 101 thing, denying he was going to Alabama without coming right out and saying he wasn't going to Alabama.

When that didn't work, Saban cracked. On Dec. 21 of that year, with the Alabama rumors still going strong, Saban said," I guess I've got to say it: I'm not going to be the Alabama coach."

Less than two weeks later, he was the Alabama coach.

And listen, I understand what he was trying to do on Dec. 21, 2006. Saban was coaching one team while considering another, and he didn't owe you or me the truth. The truth? Look, this isn't second grade and we're not getting gold stars for showing character. This was an NFL head coach trying to milk the most out of his NFL team. He owed it to the Dolphins and their fans to do his best to win the remaining games on the schedule. Admitting that he might leave after the season, causing that distraction in the locker room, wouldn't have been the best way to do that. So he said what he said. He lied, basically. Big deal. Again, we're not 8 years old. Get over it.

The problem here, really, is twofold. One, the coaches who try to quiet speculation they're leaving without absolutely committing to stay. But also, it's the media who ask the question.

We're doing what you want us to do, of course. The media have access to coaches, and fans want to know if their coach is leaving. So we ask, even when we know the answer will be evasive at best, an outright lie at worst. But still we report the answer as if it matters, like three weeks ago when we reported here at CBSSports.com that Gary Andersen would stay at Utah State. We even made it the headline, where there's no room for nuance: "Gary Andersen to stay at Utah State."

Eighteen days later, Gary Andersen was gone to Wisconsin.

It's what coaches do. It's what the media does. The innocent bystanders are the fans who take coaches -- and media -- at their word when coaches and the media both know the word is garbage.

And here we're doing it again with Nick Saban, who played the game about as badly as a man can play it in 2006, yet is trying it again. He went on a Miami radio show this week and said he's not leaving Alabama for Cleveland. Sort of.

Saban said, "I don't think we've got too many moves left in us."

(But not, "I'm not moving again.")

Saban said, "I don't think it's really fair to leave."

(But left out, "... though you never know.")

Saban said, "Hopefully I'll be able to stay here for a long, long time."

(Hopefully. Not, "Definitely.")

Wiggle room doesn't work. Neither does abject honesty, which Tom Izzo tried in 2010 when the Cleveland Cavaliers courted him. Izzo was open and honest and paid for it, even before he ultimately decided to stay, when a Detroit columnist wrote that he should go ahead and take the job because he'd gone too far to come back.

Silly. The whole dance is silly. Coaches should do what Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski does, which is, ignore rumors. Simply refuse to talk about them. Dombrowski did that to me in 1995 when he was with the Marlins. I asked him about a rumored trade, he told me no comment, and I responded -- brilliantly, I thought -- by saying, "If it wasn't true, you'd just tell me it's not true."

Dombrowski proceeded to give me a lesson that Nick Saban, Tom Izzo, Gary Andersen and others -- you listening, Chip Kelly? -- will need to know sooner or later: Dombrowski said if he refuses to speculate on any rumor, true or false, it renders them all toothless by giving fans and media no words to parse. The rumor either dies in time, as most rumors do, or is confirmed as fact when the time is right. But the time isn't right when the rumor is merely at rumor stage.

It was a great lesson Dave Dombrowski taught me, and he did it with grace and class. And so I'll pay it forward and try to teach it to Nick Saban when I tell him, for the love of God, to just shut up about Cleveland.


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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