Nick Saban is shy

In a conversation with ESPN’s Chris Low, Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban explains why the coach had a rocky relationship with the media. He was shy.

According to Low’s Q&A: “I had problems getting up in front of people and giving speeches when I was young. My wife is just the opposite. She probably brought it out in me to be a little more outgoing. She was a speech major and was on the debate team. When I first became a head coach, I had a lot of anxiety in front of the press and media, always afraid I was going to say the wrong thing and created an image for myself that was far different than what I really was. And even though I’ve changed a little bit over time — actually, I’ve changed a lot over time in that regard — I’m much more relaxed and don’t feel that way at all anymore and haven’t probably since I went to LSU. But every opportunity to still say that I’m that way, somebody out there is willing to do so. That’s just the way it is. Now I’m responsible for that, so I’m not blaming anybody.”

I wonder if there isn’t more to it than just shyness. Some in the media are petty, and look for any opportunity to mock or insult. This compounded with the rise of the Internet, and expanded geometrically with the rise of blogs.

Saban’s discomfort with the media also could be attributed to the lack of professionalism on display by many in the press. I’m not even talking about buffoons like Josh Moon or the Miami reporter who released off-the-record tape recordings. While the Miami reporter damaged the press, Saban has experienced at least two other public issues with the press that harmed his reputation.

Paul Finebaum’s show this week mentioned the situation where many in the Alabama media repeated an Internet hoax where then LSU coach Saban supposedly insulted Alabama and its NCAA sanctions; a transcript of a supposed postgame speech made by Saban was posted on the Internet following LSU’s win over Kentucky and prior to LSU’s game against Alabama. Saban was so irritated by the hoax that he appeared on Finebaum’s show in November 2002 to refute the hoax. The coach even mentions the hoax in his book.

Fast forward a few years, and Saban was the victim of another Internet hoax, and this time a Louisiana newspaper (owned by Gannett) repeated a new Internet hoax in a sports column.

If the press were spreading falsehoods about me, I would be less likely to be open. Wouldn’t you?

Sure, not everyone in the press is irresponsible, but this behavior would only serve to make a shy person even more guarded.

Former WJOX radio personality Ian Fitzsimmons said something about Saban that was perhaps the best description of the coach—Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban is an introvert in an extrovert’s job. Saban’s reclusive personality earns him ridicule while a loudmouth like Steve Spurrier is beloved by the press. Spurrier has insulted many programs and coaches, but his arrogance hasn’t attracted the same type of backlash from the media. Why? Because Spurrier is affable. He overcomes his smartass comments with a grin and a handshake. Like an old preacher, Spurrier makes an interlocutor feel important. In contrast, Saban lets you know he’d rather be anywhere else.

Saban’s rocky relationship with the press comes back to good old human nature. The press has reinforced the coach’s shyness with irresponsible and unethical behavior. Given these attributes, that Saban even speaks to the press is a remarkable thing.

Read Chris Low’s Q&A with Nick Saban: Part I and Part II.