Inside this hotel meeting room are Maurice Smith and several family members.
It’s Saturday night, hours after Smith graduated from Alabama.
But the family isn’t celebrating.
Instead, they’re seated around this long rectangular table talking about Smith’s ugly ongoing battle with Alabama and sharing their frustration regarding Alabama’s handling of this process while continuing to emphasize that they believe Smith and other graduate transfers should be able to transfer wherever they want. Even if it’s in the same conference.
Smith, a senior defensive back, continues to seek a release to Georgia. Tide coach Nick Saban continues to tell him that he can’t transfer to Georgia or any other SEC school.
It’s become a frustrating, draining situation for both the Smith family and Alabama.
Okay, making the public case is the only weapon they have at their disposal, but will it work? Maurice Smith claims time isn’t an issue for him (“There’s really not a deadline. I’m willing to go as far as it takes to play the season at the school that I desire, which is Georgia.”), but the reality would seem to be otherwise, unless he’s willing to play without a scholarship.
Does Nick Saban strike anyone as the kind of man who digs in, only to relent later? I can’t say he does me, but according to Kirby Smart, Saban’s changed a little over the years.
“On a scale of one to 10,” Smart said, “(with 10 being) just out-of-control, just manic, all ball when I first got with him, I really feel like that’s toned down to an 8 or a 7.”
Saban deals with his assistants and his players in a different way than he once did. While he still presents the same hard-nosed facade to the media, Smart said the Crimson Tide coach is more vulnerable with his teams today.
“He was more emotional with those last three or four teams,” Smart said. “The one that won it with A.J. (McCarron) and C.J. (Mosley) down in Miami (in 2012). That was a team that was really emotional. He got emotional with Blake Sims’ group (in 2014). You hear it in his voice, where, when I go back to the first years, and even LSU, there was never that emotional side. He would never let a team see that, where he choked up a little bit.”
Color me skeptical, although it has to be said that in other instances, public perception has caused other programs to relent. And Smith’s message is tough for Saban to rebut.
Seated in the corner of the room near the end of the conversation, Smith is asked, “Why Georgia?”
“Honestly, I believe it’s the best fit for me personally to just walk in and have an opportunity in front of me to play and also get on film,” Smith says. “And also, our (former) defensive coordinator is there. Coach Smart, he’s the head coach now. So it’s just an all-around good fit for me to come in. It’s almost the same system as Alabama, so it will be an easy transition and also the playbook. And I don’t have a lot of time to get on the field and basically get my senior year underway, so I think that would be the best opportunity and the best choice for me to move to.”
If part of the collegiate athletic experience is providing the opportunity for student-athletes to prepare for a chance at a professional career, how can Saban argue there are football programs better suited for Smith than the one where his former coaches run the defense he’s played in for three years? Smith calls that a business decision and, for once, the phrase isn’t trite.
But can he find the story has enough traction to force Saban to respond?