Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Saban tries to keep the focus on football
By Alex Scarborough
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- He'd like to talk about football. Period. Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn't care about hype or allegations or outside distractions. He simply doesn't want to hear it. If it were up to him, life would operate in a bubble that measures 360 feet by 160 feet. There's chalk inside that box, lines every 5 yards and a bright yellow goalpost on either end.
Saban's singular focus has no room for what happens out of bounds. Leave the rest to the administration to sort out. When reports like the one that broke Wednesday afternoon occur, he stays away. In fact, he doesn't even read them. Less than 72 hours away from No. 1 Alabama's date with No. 6 Texas A&M, he wants to talk about the Aggies and nothing else.
Whatever D.J. Fluker did or didn't do occurred in the past, and Nick Saban would prefer it stay there.
"If you want to talk about the Texas A&M game, I'd be glad to talk about it," Saban said after back-to-back questions about the report. "That's what I'm here to do. I'm here to coach our players, talk about our team."
It has been a long week already for the Crimson Tide, and the scathing report was the imperfect cherry on top. Alabama lost to Texas A&M and its Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel at home a year ago. The players have been asked repeatedly since then how they'll get their revenge. And time and time again, they've said it's not about revenge or retaliation, that they don't buy into the hype and won't participate in the media build-up. Like their coach, they wanted the focus to be on the game and nothing else.
But it's hard to tune out the outside noise once it reaches a certain pitch.
Saban can say again and again how outside influences won't be distracting, but his body language said something different on Wednesday. Earlier in the week he talked about the value of playing without emotion in raucous environments like the one his team will face Saturday, but from the podium he was showing just how hot under the collar he can become.
"As I said before, I made a statement," Saban said. "Don't ask me any more questions about this!"
It was a rare instance where an exclamation point was deserved, as Saban shouted at a room full of reporters.
"It hasn't been distracting for me, because I don't read about it," he said. "I'm focused on what we need to do to play a game. That's what's fair to our players. That's what we owe our current players. So this has not been a distraction for me."
C.J. Mosley called the news involving former teammate D.J. Fluker disappointing, but was sure to add that it was in the past and that's where he was intent on keeping it. UA's All-American has been busy all week trying to figure out how to handle stopping Manziel. As Mike linebacker, he'll be tasked with spying the fleet-footed quarterback.
Junior wideout Christion Jones was similarly flip about the allegations. He wasn't worried about what allegedly happened a year ago. His focus was on Saturday.
"I don't really get involved with that," Jones said. "Our compliance does a great job teaching us about all those things and staying away from agents and stuff like that. We can talk about A&M and leave it at that. I don't really get involved with that."
It was easy to say, but it will be harder to put into practice. The question now is whether the distractions have reached a breaking point and whether it will have any influence on what happens on the football field come Saturday.
Knowing Saban, it will be kindling on an already intense fire, a burning source of motivation for a team already looking to prove something against Texas A&M. Getting back at the Aggies was enough. Now, players can take the "us against the world" mentality to heart.
Saban was defiant Wednesday night. He wanted to talk about football, not media reports. After three questions about off-the-field matters, he'd had enough. When no one followed up with an actual question about preparing for Texas A&M, he walked off, but not before adding his sarcastic thanks to the crowd.
"Appreciate your interest in the game," he said.
And that was the last anyone will hear from him publicly until after Saturday afternoon's game in College Station, Texas. Then, maybe, he'll be able to talk about what he wants: football.