Saban sold out Saturday
That sound you heard late Saturday afternoon was Bear Bryant rolling over in his grave. Nearly a quarter century after his death, his beloved football program has seemingly fallen and it can't get up.
On Saturday, against a directional school from northeast Louisiana, one who plays in a league whose champion earns an automatic berth into something called the New Orleans Bowl, the Tide(tanic) hit another iceberg, shredding this season into four million pieces and raising questions for the first time whether Nick Saban has a solid handle on his job as head football coach at Alabama.
The loss was shockingly bad. However, considering the depths of despair this program has reached over the last few years, it probably shouldn't have been surprising.
The good news for Alabama is there is one last shot at deliverance – the Iron Bowl Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The bad news is that a loss, whether it's a blowout or a last-second field goal, will be the sixth straight to a rival it used to own and has always looked down on. Guess who will be looking down on whom Saturday night if the streak goes to a second hand?
And while there is reason for optimism about the future because of the bountiful number of high school commitments Saban has picked up leading into February's national signing date, will any of them possibly reconsider should they take a closer look at the events of Saturday's nightmare at Bryant-Denny Stadium?
Do you think when Saban makes the in-house visits to the top blue-chippers in the next few weeks, he'll have a ready explanation for why the Alabama fans roundly booed his team on Senior Day with their families looking on in the stands with horrified expressions?
Saban warned the Alabama faithful in the offseason that booing is bad for business. He repeated that admonition at every stop on the rubber-chicken circuit. However, based on Saturday's embarrassing scene, it appears the fans now pay about as much attention to him as his Alabama players.
Do you think Saban will be able to go into the home of top recruits and make a case that Alabama is a program built on class, integrity and discipline?
Saban also appeared to be throwing his senior class under the bus in his post-game comments by saying part of the problem could be a "pattern of personality." He said the problems now seem to be the same ones that cropped up in the past.
Translation: This is Mike Shula's fault.
Well, no it isn't, Nick. This has happened on your $32 million watch.
Saturday marked the 11th game of the season under Saban. In most years, that's an entire regular season. And if this team, particularly the upperclassmen, were so bad (as you thinly insinuated), then how did they did they manage a lead against LSU late in that contest? How were they able to beat Tennessee a month ago and take Georgia into overtime back in September?
Alabama was a 25-point favorite against ULM Saturday – the same school that
Shula beat last year, 41-7. ULM entered the game with a 4-6 record, which included a 24-7 loss to Troy, a 31-21 defeat to North Texas, a 43-40 loss to Middle Tennessee State and a 54-14 loss to Texas A&M. In case you haven't heard, the Aggies are about to make a coaching change.
So what's the problem here?
Saban said he stressed all week that you can't take a team like this lightly. Well, apparently, they didn't listen. Why not?
Could it be the team has tuned out the master of the process? Could it be they don't care what he has to say any more? Or perhaps, they simply can't relate to a coach who makes so much money and who has crisscrossed the nation the last few years like an Amway salesman.
One could assume that's the case with DJ Hall, the team's most talented offensive weapon. Hall didn't play in the first half (Saban said he violated team rules), but with Alabama struggling at halftime, Saban suddenly decided that Hall suspension was over.
Asked for an explanation afterward, Saban said: "It was what it was?"
When a reporter challenged him, Saban silenced him like a stern father talking to a teenager asking for his car keys a second time.
At least Saban could been honest and said, "Hey man, I'm trying to win the stupid football game. Aight! That's what you people are paying me $4 mil to do."
Instead, he offered a lame and disingenuous retort that seems to confirm Saban is no different than most head coaches: He employs discipline whenever it's convenient.
So now, the Auburn game.
Will Alabama salvage what is left of this season with a win against Auburn?
Or will the Tide sink deeper into the abyss with its fourth straight loss and a 6-6 record?
A few weeks ago, in the wake of the Tennessee game, Saban's success seemed certain. However, the loss Saturday has left some people shaken and wondering how in the world this once promising season (6-2 at one point) has become a cataclysm.
It is the guess of most experts that Saban can maneuver the Tide out of this pit and right this ship. A win against Auburn would be nice for him.
But Saturday brought one reality home. Simply paying someone $4 million a year doesn't guarantee victory, even against the dregs of college football. Saban was beaten by a head coach at ULM whose annual salary is less than what Saban makes for a single game.
It wasn't the loss that should bother Alabama fans so much. Instead, it was the fact that Saban seemingly sold out his principles by letting Hall come back in the second half to try to reverse the scoreboard.
Most fans thought that kind of nonsense had ended when Alabama replaced Mike Shula with Nick Saban. Last Saturday, it was difficult to see the difference.
Paul Finebaum is a guest columnist for The Franklin County Times. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.