Category Archives: Nick Saban Rules

Nick Saban and “immediate self-gratification”

You may have heard that another highly-rated defensive back just left the Alabama program.

Redshirt freshman cornerback Kendall Sheffield is transferring from Alabama.

Sheffield, a five-star prospect in the class of 2015, became a topic of conversation early in the week after he did not attend Crimson Tide practices Monday and Tuesday.

A Sheffield family member told ESPN that Sheffield was informed on Wednesday by Alabama football coach Nick Saban that he would receive his release from the school. The release has the stipulation that Sheffield cannot transfer to another SEC school.

Sheffield, the nation’s No. 3-ranked cornerback in 2015, has returned to his family home in the Houston area. He was running second team at cornerback prior to his decision to transfer.

Naturally, this has generated a great deal of introspection amongst the Tide faithful about what Saban might have done to lead to the rash of departures… okay, I keed, I keed.  Over at Roll Bama Roll, the lede is “Another CB prospect from Texas sulks over the depth chart.”

Meanwhile, Michael Casagrande has a piece that claims to make sense about the kids leaving the program.  And surprise — it’s not you, Nick, it’s those damned youngsters.

What’s behind that? Each transfer is unique while still fitting into a shifting culture among athletes one year after leaving high school. Barton Simmons, the director of scouting at 247Sports, said the proliferation of transfers among players while in high school is a factor.

“It becomes much more less taboo, much more of a standard operating procedure,” Simmons said. “I think that’s been a steady evolution towards this. But I think that’s just a challenge that a school like Alabama has to face on an annual basis due to the fact that they recruit at such a high level.”

Yeah, cry me a river… except Saban’s been recruiting at the same high level for years, but it’s 2016 that’s off the chart in the departures department, as even Casagrande acknowledges:

A total of 26 Alabama signees from the classes of 2010-16 have transferred before exhausting their eligibility. The 2015 class’s five departures already equals the 2013 group’s total three years later.[Emphasis added.]

The funny thing here is the dog that’s not barking.  Nobody’s mentioned the change at defensive coordinator.  Think Jeremy Pruitt might have had an effect here?  If you’re not sure, you might want to check out Georgia’s 2013 recruiting class, peeps.  The man has a way with kids he didn’t recruit.  He’ll also do just fine with the kids he does pull in.  It was, um… gratifying to watch him work the recruiting trail hard while he was in Athens.

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“We support the SEC rule of not granting guys’ releases to go to other SEC schools.”

When Alabama relented and gave Maurice Smith his unconditional release, there was a pretty common sentiment that the reason it did so was because the the fix was in — that Nick Saban knew the SEC wouldn’t grant a waiver for Smith to attend Georgia.  It turned out that was wrong.

But there’s more to this story than that.  It wasn’t simply that the SEC granted the waiver, albeit conditionally.  It’s that Greg Sankey went out of his way to criticize the very conference rule that Saban supported.

Sankey did acknowledge it’s time for a healthy discussion about this subject beyond Maurice Smith, particularly SEC Bylaw 14.5.5.1, which prohibits transferring within the league and playing right away barring a successful waiver request. In the commissioner’s words, “The current rule places our coaches and administrators in untenable situations so it is time for us to address graduate transfer rules.”

Granted, that statement came after some weasel words about the need to be careful with graduate transfers (why?) and praise for Alabama’s stance, but when you boil it down, untenable is untenable.  Sankey recognized that Maurice Smith was the perfect storm to challenge an unfair rule and had little choice but to do what he did.

“The five conferences wanted autonomy to make these [type of] decisions,” SEC commissioner Sankey told me. “We’ve just been stuck in the morass of Division I governance process and don’t have an output. Part of what I’m observing is we’ve got to do something.”

It starts with getting rid of the silly year-in-residence rule for graduating players who, like Smith, desire to transfer within the conference. I spoke to two FBS commissioners Friday who told me their conferences would at least have to consider getting rid of similar grad transfer rules.

Sankey was not of them, but the architect of Friday’s ruling suggested he is already tiring of ruling case-by-case. In other words, Smith’s case was not the first one he has dealt with, just the some prominent.

“No, I don’t [look forward] to doing this on an ad hoc basis,” Sankey said.

Think about it: This whole thing blew up over an academically-motivated kid from Sugar Land, Texas, who was second in special teams tackles last season for Alabama.

In a world where conference commissioners issue mealy-mouthed proclamations about student-athletes’ concerns, the optics of preventing someone with a degree from transferring are terrible.  Sankey doesn’t want to defend the indefensible.  Perhaps that will indeed lead to a change in the SEC’s rule, which would be a welcome development.

But that may not be the biggest thing about what just happened.  Because it’s hard to look at how this went down and not think that Greg Sankey hung Nick Saban out to dry.

The SEC owes Nick Saban a favor. Had someone in the conference office told the Alabama coach that the league would let recent Alabama grad—and former Crimson Tide defensive back—Maurice Smith transfer to Georgia and play immediately, Saban probably would have released Smith immediately instead of getting painted as a villain for weeks.

The SEC announced on Friday afternoon that Smith would be granted a waiver to a league rule that would allow him to play immediately. This is the correct decision, because the rule is a bad one in the first place. But the decision came at the wrong time. Instead of letting its most successful coach get blasted as being anti-athlete news cycle after news cycle, someone at the SEC should have stepped in much earlier in this process.

This never had to become a national debate. Had someone at the SEC told Saban earlier this month that Smith would get the waiver, then Saban—who is nothing if not pragmatic—probably would have simply released Smith and saved himself the negative headlines. He stuck up for the league’s rule, but the league didn’t. Had Saban known the SEC would cave, he probably would have released Smith weeks ago.

I think Staples is right about that, except for the favor-owing part.  Saban made a self-serving decision and righteously cloaked himself in the conference rule.  He misread the situation in that Sankey was placed in a spot where he had little choice but to take his own talk about student-athlete support seriously.  (Saban also didn’t help himself with the Black and Pappanastos transfers.)

Still, Sankey could have simply granted Smith’s waiver and left things at that.  Instead, with his call to revise the graduate transfer rules, he’s indicated his intent to move the conference in a direction that will undercut head coaches’ control of their players, something that for most is not a desired result.  And Nick Saban is the catalyst for that.

I don’t think anyone saw that coming, least of all Nick Saban.

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Our long national nightmare is over… almost.

It seems Nick Saban doesn’t have time for fighting Maurice Smith going to Georgia.

The University of Alabama athletic department has granted a full release to defensive back Maurice Smith, sources have confirmed to The Tuscaloosa News.

Smith, who graduated from Alabama last Saturday, can contact any school including those within the SEC about a potential transfer with the release. The status of any possible transfer within the conference would depend on approval of a waiver by the Southeastern Conference office.

Head coach Nick Saban indicated at his Wednesday press conference that the Smith transfer, a topic of much discussion in recent weeks, was now out of his hands, although he gave no specifics.

“We have done everything that we can do institutionally to allow the conference to make the decision about whatever they decide is in the best interest of the conference and the SEC rules relative to Maurice Smith,” Saban said. “So that is past us now. It is beyond us. We don’t really need to talk about that anymore and I don’t have any other comments to make about it. We’re trying to focus on the guys we have here and what we need to do to help those guys have a chance to be successful.”

Translation:  it’s your problem now, Greg Sankey.

The conference might as well change the rule, if even Saban can be worn down by battling a kid’s family in the press.

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Mr. Saban, when you’ve lost LSU on roster management…

… can America be far behind?  (Or at least the SEC.)

**************************************************************************

UPDATE:  Relax, Nick.  Bert’s got your back.

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said Wednesday that he is opposed to players transferring from one SEC school to another, and clarified that his opinion applies to graduate transfers.

His rationale is… well, a little paranoid.

Bielema said one reason he’s opposed to transfers within the SEC is that there are some things you don’t want other conference schools to know about the inner-workings of your program.

His opinion extends to graduate transfers, he said, because these days, those players are graduating with two years of eligibility left.

I guess that explains his love for non-compete clauses in his assistants’ contracts.

Of course, the ironic thing here is that in Maurice Smith’s case, Georgia’s coaches probably know more about the inner workings of Alabama’s program than Smith does.

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It’s a (Smith) family affair.

Maurice Smith’s brother chimes in with some Saban disappointment.  Nick probably doesn’t have time for this kind of shit:

Smith’s mother, Samyra, provided a statement from Maurice’s younger brother Ainias, a sophomore at Dulles High School in Sugar Land, Tex. Ainias Smith was listed among “freshman to watch” in a 247Sports recruiting story last December, and is being recruited by schools.

But Alabama can clearly be stricken from his potential list. And Ainias Smith’s statement said he has heard similar feelings from others in the Houston area since word of his brother’s situation came out. [Emphasis added.]

“I respected coach Saban, but it’s hard to have respect for what he’s done to my brother and has never apologized for how he was treated,” Ainias Smith’s statement said. “He didn’t even care if he had food or money to eat during those weeks or if he was working out to stay in shape to possibly return to the team. This entire situation has made me have trust issues with coaches because the way coach Saban talked to us while he was at my house, and it made me think that everything was going to be all good. But now he has showed me another side that I didn’t think I would see out of him.”

Gentlemen, start your negative recruiting engines.

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Smith vs. Saban: “It’s not personal.”

The Smith family continues to work the media diligently.

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.”

These days, is he vulnerable enough to react to a little mockery?  (The ‘Bama fan base isn’t.)  If you check PAWWWLLL’s Twitter feed, Finebaum is having a field day with this.

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?

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Is there a difference between hair-splitting and hypocrisy?

This may have been lost in the shuffle of Saturday’s open practice, but Kirby Smart upped the stakes in the Maurice Smith saga with this:

Kirby Smart never mentioned his former mentor’s name, but he has now officially broken with Nick Saban.

Asked on Saturday about Maurice Smith, Smith said that if a player graduated from Georgia and wanted to transfer, he would let him do so without restrictions – even in the SEC.

“Absolutely,” Smart said.

That’s a direct difference from how Alabama is handling defensive back Maurice Smith, who graduates today and is seeking a transfer to Georgia. But Alabama is not releasing him, citing SEC bylaws, though it permitted another player (Chris Black) to transfer after last season to Missouri.

Cry hypocrisy!, proclaims Kevin Scarbinsky.

As everyone knows by now, Saban and Alabama are blocking defensive back Maurice Smith from transferring to Georgia to play for the Bulldogs this season as a grad transfer.

As we also know, Smart somehow neglected to mention his beneficent belief in an exception for grad transfers back in March when he outlined his own restrictive Saban-like policy that “we will not release kids to SEC schools unless it’s a special situation.”

What’s a rivalry without a little hypocrisy?

Smart also voiced his support then for doing exactly what Saban’s doing here, preventing a player from following a former coach. Smart was Smith’s coordinator at Alabama, and new UGa defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was Smith’s position coach.

Nice to see how much privilege Smart believes that undergrad degree should buy you.

Saturday’s question about Smith’s desire to move from Alabama to Georgia gave Smart the opening to show current and potential future Bulldogs how much he’s willing to put their interests first. As opposed to, say, a certain dictatorial SEC West coach with five national titles.

The shot at Saban was unspoken but unmistakable.

This is great news for current and future Bulldogs because Smart’s now on the record supporting the common-sense belief that a young man who earns his undergraduate degree also has earned the right to play his final season of college football elsewhere if he so desires.

Can’t wait to see Smart stick to that stance when someone like Jacob Eason wants to exercise that option down the road.

Dude, the odds of Jacob Eason exercising a graduate transfer to anywhere but the NFL are about the same as my dating a supermodel.  That is to say, nonexistent.  But I digress.

Yes, the timing of Kirby’s noble stand is certainly convenient for Georgia.  And it would be a lot cleaner if Smart hadn’t put the conditions on Turman’s transfer that he did.  But let’s be clear about some things.  First of all, even if Smart had retained Mark Richt’s policy on transfers, does anyone really believe that would have made any difference whatsoever to Nick Saban here?  Of course not.  (To be fair, Nick Saban hasn’t accused his protege of hypocrisy here.)

Second, it’s worth noting that both Saban and Smart qualified their stance on transfers with the “unless it’s a special situation” special sauce.  Smart is taking the blanket position that graduation is precisely the kind of special situation that qualifies.  As a first time head coach with only a few months under his belt, he has the luxury of that stance without contradicting himself.

Unfortunately for Nick Saban, with a lengthy track record, he doesn’t have that luxury, which is why the Chris Black transfer is being thrown back in his face with some effectiveness.  Jon Solomon found another example of Saban hedging his bets.

That’s what happened when Ole Miss granted a release this offseason to kicker Andy Pappanastos, who graduated in the spring and transferred to Alabama with immediate eligibility. Pappanastos was on scholarship at Ole Miss but rarely played. He is a walk-on at Alabama and figures to compete for Alabama’s starting kicker job in 2017, though he could play sooner if needed, AL.com reported in March. Saban had no problem accepting Pappanastos from another SEC school, yet Smith’s interest to transfer to Georgia is deemed unacceptable.

Solomon goes on to tar the two coaches with the same brush (“Coaches and schools view players as assets they can control. Saban and Smart want what’s best for the player — unless what’s best may not align with the competitive interests of the coach.”), and while I’m not going to argue with his point about the unfairness of restricting player transfers, I’m also not going to pretend we’ll see significant change any time soon.

But what I do think we should settle for at a minimum — and when I say “settle”, I mean hold coaches accountable — is requiring a head coach to outline a transfer policy that can be explained to recruits in a truthful manner without bullshit.  To me, it’s no different than grayshirting or other methods of roster management.  As long as a kid goes into a situation fully informed, with his eyes opened about what could happen down the road, and is willing to accept that, it’s fine.  Ironically, I’ve defended Saban in that regard before, because I don’t think he’s had to soft sell his roster management policy.

From that point of view, I can defend Kirby’s hair-splitting regarding transfers, at least for now.  As long as he’s telling recruits he intends to let graduates transfer freely and sticks to that, he’s not being a hypocrite.

But you tell me how Nick Saban explains his transfer policy to recruits.  I doubt “whatever suits me best at the time” is a good sell, but what do I know?

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