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Media hero-worship shifts to Nick Saban and Alabama

Now that the media has fed on the Penn State scandal for the past year after building up Joe Paterno as a saint on the sidelines for the past 40 years, some are naturally moving on to other subjects to deify.

With Alabama coming off of two National Championships in the past three years, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Nick Saban is the next coach to get glowing coverage from many in the media. Rachel Bachman and Ben Cohen have just written a profile of Saban in the Wall Street Journal where they take great pains to explain Saban’s greatness. Here’s an example of some of the gushing “analysis.”

The stunning volume of victories and championships and NFL draft picks has Alabama redefining college-football success as we know it. How, exactly, does the Tide do it?

Really? Redefining success? This sort of dominance over several years hasn’t been seen before in college football? Didn’t Alabama lose a game last season?

The writers go on to explain Saban meticulous attention to detail in the recruiting process, and I guess there’s some insightful reporting into Saban’s methods. But is there anything really new here? Saban is at one of the top football factories in the country and he’s grabbing the best recruits. It’s no different than what other successful coaches have done, and probably less impressive than what Urban Meyer achieved several years earlier at a school that doesn’t have Alabama’s tradition.

More notable, however, is that they also don’t dig into some of the less noble tactics used by Saban and others in the SEC like oversigning which is mentioned in passing near the end of the article after they’ve nestled Saban comfortably on his pedestal.

Here’s another nugget from the article.

“He’s incredibly honest in the recruiting process,” said former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, the starter on the 2009 national-title team who now plays for the New York Jets. “He tells kids, ‘Hey, you’re going to come in and redshirt. Look, you’re going to do this. You’re going to do that.’ He tells them exactly what he thinks. I think a lot of people respect that because so much of the recruiting process is an unknown.”

Wow. Saban sounds great. I guess it’s nice to hear this from Saban’s starting quarterback, but wouldn’t we learn a little more about what really goes on in college recruiting and at Alabama in particular by talking to some of the kids who lost their scholarship after one year because they weren’t quite as “special” as Saban thought when he recruited them? Of course we would, but that wouldn’t fit the happy storyline being promoted here. This isn’t about reporting; it’s PR fluff.

If the writers or the Wall Street Journal wanted to do some reporting, they might have considered looking into the random nature of NCAA enforcement and sanctions, and how many schools are learning to dodge the NCAA by just refusing to self-report problems. That’s why a tattoos for memorabilia scandal brings down a coach at Ohio State, while an alleged suits for memorabilia scheme reported in detail by SPORTSbyBROOKS gets ignored by the national media, Alabama and the NCAA. If a story doesn’t make it to ESPN or SI, it just didn’t happen. Right? Perhaps if publications like the Wall Street Journal would do some real investigating relating to this topic, they might have a real story about Alabama, or on the other hand they could say with confidence that Alabama student-athletes were avoiding the pitfalls encountered by players at Ohio State and North Carolina.

Some might argue that this was a simple football story, and there’s no need to bring in the ugly side of college football every time we discuss a top program. I get that, and it’s a fair point. Sometimes we all just want to enjoy the games. But when we get a profile exalting the recruiting “genius” of millionaire coaches like Saban, it’s journalistic malpractice to settle for token mentions of issues like oversigning and ignore well-documented allegations of misconduct.

Rick Reilly recently wrote a column where he admitted to “engaging in hagiography” as one of the many journalists who turned Joe Paterno into a saint. Of course Reilly had no idea of how that image would ultimately be destroyed, but he regretted focusing only on the positive spin surrounding Paterno’s success. A professor had called him and warned him that Paterno wasn’t a saint as everyone assumed, so there was a real story there had Reilly decided to actually do his job. Just like there’s a real story around all of today’s best coaches as well. Some are better than others, and many of them try to run clean programs. But it’s hard to take profiles like this one about Saban at face value if the issues bubbling under the surface are ignored.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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