By Hunter Ford
When you reach the top of the mountain, there’s nowhere else to go but back down, right? Alabama football is at the top of the mountain right now, but there is more at stake this season than just another (ho hum) national championship.
Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide can make history by being the first team in the modern era to win three national championships in a row in Division I football. If this year’s Tide wins it all, they will have overcome some of the bigger in-season distractions in recent memory.
In the beginning of the season, Sports Illustrated ran a lengthy piece, with the help of anonymous SEC coaches, on how to beat the Tide. Then, Yahoo! Sports comes out with an investigative piece accusing former Alabama players of receiving improper benefits from agents. Now star safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has been suspended indefinitely and an assistant strength coach has been placed on leave. Reports have surfaced that the coach improperly loaned Clinton-Dix $500.
Forget Saban leaving for Texas, or USC, or the NFL. He will be lucky if he doesn’t pop a neck vein and stroke out over this year’s team. The lapses in secondary play (the defensive secondary is Saban’s obsession) have turned him cartoonishly angry several times already. You could see the steam coming from his ears and the volcano erupting on top of his head. Now this crap with Clinton-Dix hits the fan. Saban preaches focus, and his own focus is being strained.
After announcing the Clinton-Dix situation, early in his press conference Wednesday, Saban said that some players were changing jersey numbers. Saban sounded like a man running out of patience when he explained why. “We’ve had some issues because we have double numbers from 29 to zero,” he said, sighing at the frivolity of it all. “It must be en vogue not to have a number above 29. But when you get on special teams, we’ve already got called for having two 21s in the game at the same time. We can’t take people out of the game and put others in.”
Yes, it’s lonely at the top, and everyone from the media to on-field opponents is looking to drag you down.
But spoiled players who have to wear a certain number, hard-headed ones who can’t learn the coverages, or careless and reckless ones who would jeopardize their college careers for $500—these are just as dangerous as any muck-raking journalism or Johnny Football could be.
It’s interesting, that on the morning of Clinton-Dix’s suspension, Saban was heaping Praise on radio personality Paul Finebaum. Saban called Finebaum a “friend” and said he has “brainstormed” with him in the past on how to handle public relations issues.
The improper benefits allegations, I predict, will go nowhere. The former players accused of receiving benefits are just that, former players. The NCAA will have a hard time proving anything, if they are even investigating it. As far as Clinton-Dix goes, he has reportedly repaid the money loaned to him, and he is suspended. Saban and Alabama, it seems, acted immediately on this case, which will go a long way in proving there was not a lack of institutional control.
The most imposing roadblock to the next national championship is not a scandal, or a hurry-up offense, but players who need to get their heads out of the clouds and back in the game. I wonder if Finebaum can help with that? Maybe Saban should invite him to practice.