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Insider

Winston is great, just not for Alabama

2/3/2012

There were months spent chasing Jameis Winston, years really. There were in-home visits, phone calls arranged and, no doubt, promises made. Since the time he threw his first pass at Hueytown (Ala.) High, the University of Alabama coaching staff wanted him in crimson and white.

What isn’t there to like about him? He can throw the ball from here to Homewood. He’s the No. 1 quarterback in the country for a reason. He’s shifty, quick and strong. He sniffs out the endzone like a hungry coed seeks out the sweet scent of barbeque on gamedays in the fall.

Winston is the real deal. He is built to play quarterback.

Just not at Alabama.

Yes, the Crimson Tide wanted him. And, yes, Florida State got him. The Noles won the battle for Winston but the Crimson Tide will survive the war.

Alabama fans should congratulate Winston on his success and wish him the best in the ACC, far away from the turbulent flight patterns of the Southeastern Conference. But Tide fans should also be thankful that Winston did not come to Tuscaloosa. It would be a mistake to think his talents were anything more than a seductive fantasy, a fatal mirage just beyond the side of a sharp cliff.

The risk in taking Winston was far too great. His talent comes with a price, one few programs are better off not paying. Alabama has built a college football empire based upon a simple formula: fundamentally sound offense and spectacular defense. Winston would have destroyed that mold. What makes him special would have made Alabama weak.

In the nearly 120 years since Alabama started a football program, there has never been a dual-threat quarterback quite like Winston. Fourteen championships later, the Crimson Tide is doing just fine.

Alabama’s offense has long been built on stability -- taking care of the football and winning the battle up front. The quarterback, more often than not, facilitates the action and doesn't create it. Winston is a creator of offense. His game is built on improvisation, moving around and making plays out of nothing. He needs freedom on the field, something Alabama’s scheme does not afford its quarterbacks.

It’s hard to imagine Nick Saban abandoning that formula for one player, no matter how talented he is. Can you imagine Saban watching Winston sprint to the sideline and throw the ball off his back foot across the entire length of the field? What kind of look would come across Saban’s face? Even if a pass like that were completed, how long do you think it would be before another quarterback was in the game?

And what if Winston lost two games in a row? What then? How loud would the outcry be to return to the old way of doing things, a nice drop-back quarterback to hand the ball off and stay out of the way?

And how long would it be before baseball was brought into it?

Forget that Winston is a dual-threat quarterback unlike Alabama has ever seen. He’s an athlete unlike Alabama has ever seen. It’s difficult to remember the last UA football player who participated in two sports, let alone one with the responsibility of being quarterback. There was supposedly a plan in place to accommodate Winston's demand to play both baseball and football, but imagine the stress both he and the respective coaching staffs would have been under. If he failed at football, baseball would have been blamed, and vice versa. With professional aspirations in both sports, how could he have succeeded at even one?

Programs like Florida State have experience handling two-sport athletes. Alabama does not. And the truth is, it doesn’t have to. Football drives the train in Tuscaloosa and it’s rolling along just fine. It took nearly two decades to find the right coach and the right system to get it back running again. Now that it is, why throw a wrench in it?

Alex Scarborough covers University of Alabama athletics for TideNation. Reach him at alexscarborough.espn@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexS_ESPN.