Highly-touted recruit Blake Barnett has decided to transfer from Alabama, and of course Nick Saban disapproves. The Alabama head coach must be conveniently forgetting his own path to success. But that’s not unique in a dysfunctional college sports landscape, where only the adults are allowed to break their own invisible rules.
Barnett is a redshirt freshman quarterback who began the season as the starter but lost the job to true freshman Jalen Hurts. Hypothetically Barnett could be the backup his entire four years. But he wants to play, and should have no trouble finding interest elsewhere. He was the #2-ranked pro style passer in his recruiting class, and had offers from Notre Dame, Oregon, UCLA and Michigan.
As you might imagine, Saban has been less than supportive of this decision. People have focused on his use of the word “disappointed” when addressing Barnett’s transfer, but it’s really not inflammatory. Saban’s full statement was: “We are very disappointed any time a player leaves the program who feels he can compete for a starting position elsewhere, rather than here at Alabama. We wish Blake the very best of luck in the future.”
This is not a direct shot at Barnett, as it groups together all potential transfers. And wishing him luck on the way out is the professional thing to say. The problem came when Saban discussed the modern transfer culture on his radio show.
“There’s certain things that I was taught growing up about not quitting and seeing things through,” Saban said. “I think if I would have come home and told my dad that I was going to quit the team, I think he would have kicked me out of the house. I don’t think I’d have a place to stay.”
“My dad used to always say ‘The grass is always greener on top of the septic tank.’ So it always looks better someplace else. So you think, instead of facing your fears and really overcoming adversity and making yourself better through the competition, you go someplace else thinking it will be better there. But until you face your fears, you’re always going to have some of those issues or problems.”
This is where Saban is a hypocrite of the highest order. Because Dolphins fans may remember a situation where Saban faced some adversity and definitively did not see things through. In ’05, coming off a remarkable run of success as the coach of Michigan State and LSU, Saban jumped to the NFL. He saw a chance to round out his resume with winning at the professional level. He saw giant blinking dollar signs ($4.5 million per season for five seasons). He saw a triumphant return to the NFL where he was an assistant under Bill Belichick a decade earlier.
However, his militaristic and distant approach rubbed Dolphins players the wrong way. He went 9-7 and then 6-10 in his two seasons in Miami. The final year there was a grease fire. There was widespread dissention over Saban’s coaching style inside the locker room. The team chose Daunte Culpepper instead of Drew Brees in free agency. There was skepticism that Saban could connect with the professional athlete. The luster was dissipating from his previously impeccable reputation. So what did Saban do? Well, not what would’ve made his dad proud. First he lied. Then he quit.
Instead of “overcoming adversity and making himself better,” instead of “not quitting” and “seeing things through,” Saban jumped back into the warm bosom of the college ranks. He still had three years, and $13.5 million left on his contract with the Dolphins. When rumors abounded that he was being courted by Alabama he infamously denied publicly he was leaving. And then when the better situation presented itself, Saban jumped at it. Unlike Barnett, who will have to spend the next year attending a junior college, Saban was allowed to start at his new job right away.
For Barnett the timing is untraditional (during the season and after just four games) but makes sense from his standpoint. If he transfers now he’d be eligible to play at another FBS school by this time next year. If he waits until after this season, he’d have to sit out the entire ’17 campaign. His teammates have been supportive, because of course they understand his situation. Yes, the scholarship and free education are incredibly valuable. But if your dream is to play football, and perhaps go onto the NFL afterwards, there is a finite amount of time to accomplish that. Saban, and all head coaches, make the rules. They make the decisions. They leave and take new jobs and do what’s best for them at every turn in their careers. Players, apparently, are not supposed to do the same.
Saban is inarguably one of the greatest coaches in college football history. The program does not need Barnett to succeed. The Tide may very well win multiple championships during the rest of his eligibility. But when Saban condemns a player’s decision to find his greener pasture, when the Nicktator cooks up some old school lesson from Pops Saban to belittle that decision, it’s low class. It’s a move to intimidate his current players from thinking about doing the same thing, and a way to turn public opinion against the outgoing athlete. Saban has his blinders on, and is doing what he does best. Being the bully because he can.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.