By and large, the media doesn't like Alabama football coach Nick Saban. That's a fact.
Now then, this is conjecture -- but based on some other facts at my disposal, it's pretty good conjecture:
|You got a problem with Nick Saban? Love him or hate him, you have to give him his due. (Getty Images)|
That's startling, but consider the evidence. The media got over its loathing of Saban long enough to give Alabama 21 first-place votes in its latest Top 25. The coaches poll gave Alabama just two.
Something gives. I mean, 21-2? That's a blowout, and it's a blowout that makes the media look good. Cynics assume media polls are rigged, or at least skewed, by our biases. This week's AP Top 25 is a pretty strong argument against that, because the media -- by and large -- has all kinds of biases against Saban. He has lied to us. Bullied us. Manipulated us. Done everything but hold us down and sissy-slap us with our own hands. And still we gave him 21 first-place votes.
It's not like there weren't other alternatives. Oklahoma has been running roughshod. Defending national champion LSU is undefeated and has been ranked ahead of Alabama all season. Or had been until the media leapfrogged the Tide past the Tigers this week.
Missouri is a decent No. 1 candidate. Penn State is a nostalgic pick. BYU would be a protest vote against the BCS machine. Lots of choices. But after thumping then-No. 3 Georgia on Saturday, Alabama picked up nearly one-third of media's first-place votes and jumped from eighth to second -- passing victorious LSU and Texas plus idle Missouri.
But not as shocking as the comparative rebuke given to Saban by his peers. The coaches poll has Alabama at No. 4, and closer to fifth than third. In the media poll, Alabama is closer to first than third.
The polls don't lie. Both sides would hate to admit it, but coaches and media see college football similarly. Look at this week's polls, or any week's polls. The rankings are nearly identical. This week's top six would be completely identical if it weren't for the Alabama factor, what with both polls having the rest of the top six, in order: Oklahoma, LSU, Missouri, Texas, Penn State. The polls flip-flop seven and eight (Texas Tech and BYU). The polls agree on No. 9 (USC) ... and so on, all the way down to No. 25 in both polls, Wake Forest.
So why would football coaches dislike Saban? The same reason basketball coaches dislike Florida's Billy Donovan: Because they work so hard, and push the ethical envelope so far.
|plez There is another explanation for why Alabama leapfrogged everyone in the Media Poll with this win. Maybe it's because the media (and fans in the Southeast USA) are so caught up in this, "SEC is the strongest conference" delirium. I can't go along with it, because up until conference play, nobody in the conference plays anybody. And, most of the time, when they do, they get killed. It is not a secret that the Media loves them some SEC, for whatever reason. But, maybe the coaches know something everyone else doesn't. Maybe that's why they aren't ready to anoint Alabama just yet. Maybe it's because they knew that Georgia's defense wasn't good enough for a No. 3 team in the first place... Just a guess.|
|Gregg Doyel: Nice theory, but it doesn't explain why the coaches ranked LSU and Georgia higher than the media, or why the coaches had Florida and Auburn within one spot of the media, or had Vanderbilt in the exact same slot. So, I take it back. Not a nice theory at all. But it was a nice try.|
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All coaches -- OK, most coaches; I'm not sure about Steve Spurrier or Bob Huggins -- work hard. But Saban and Donovan take it to extremes, and they do it by recruiting at previously unseen levels. And when it comes to recruiting, unseen levels are unpopular. When Florida's staff was visiting Mike Miller for 24 straight days, or when Donovan himself was spending seven consecutive days watching Matt Bonner shoot hoops at a Boys Club in New Hampshire, competitors accused him of crossing the line.
The NCAA already has changed a football recruiting rule in Saban's honor. After he visited roughly 100 high schools in the 2007 spring evaluation period, coaches pushed through a rule preventing off-campus visits in the spring.
Saban's response to what is known as the "Saban Rule"? He found a whole new way to recruit, using webcams to communicate with recruits while still honoring the NCAA rule preventing off-campus recruiting. He's brilliant. Ruthless. A little bit shifty. And opposing coaches don't like it. Promise.
In a profession with very few fresh ideas, Saban has tons. He spent almost $40,000 from the bottomless Alabama football budget on something called the Pacific Institute, a self-help outfit that has Alabama's players believing they're good enough, they're smart enough, and doggone it, people like them. In one session, Alabama players were broken down into position groups and prodded to chant responses to commands:
Offensive linemen: "I am an excellent pass blocker. My technique is perfect. I sustain my blocks. My drive blocking is outstanding."
Receivers: "I run my routes with precision. I blow by the defender, creating separation. I look the ball into my soft but strong hands."
Defensive ends: "I can't be blocked. My pass rush is ferocious. I'm quick off the ball and blow by my opponent, sacking the QB. I am a bad man!"
It's hokey, but it might just work. Alabama went from No. 24 in the preseason AP poll -- unranked by the coaches (of course) -- to the top five. If only Saban could get the other 118 head coaches in Division I to learn some chants:
"I will not let my dislike for Nick Saban cost Alabama a spot in the BCS national title game."