By Buddy Martin
Nick Saban is a bully
So I guess Nick Saban was just getting his game face on for Ole Miss. And who doesn’t love seeing Lane Kiffin getting verbally spanked on national TV?
I’m just surprised Saban didn’t turn Kiffin upside down and shake lunch money out of his pockets.
“There were no arguments. Those are called ass-chewings.”
Those are the exact words of Alabama’s head coach.
Alabama had win No. 2 well in hand, cruising along with a comfortable 38-3 lead over Western Kentucky when Kiffin called a play that resulted in a fumble which the Hilltoppers converted into the first touchdown.
You’d have thought Western Kentucky had just returned a Kick Six for the win instead of only scoring the first touchdown of the year against Alabama – a meaningless one in a 38-10 Crimson Tide victory.
Furrowed brow, scowling, smoke blowing out of his ears, Saban began his drive-by verbal assault of Kiffin on the sideline once, then made a u-turn for another round of jaw-jacking diatribe. Kiffin never said a word.
This was not a pretty moment for college football. Except for those misguided fans that think coaches adding badly somehow enhances his image and fires up his team.
You only need to read the tweets of some amused Tide fans to see how much they loved seeing their coach going nuclear on his offensive coordinator Saturday — whittling him down to size after just having awarded him a big raise.
One frustrated LSU fan even got into the act, tweeting to Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News:
We need a little of that in Tiger town!! Please!!!
The truth, though, is that in a nation where we pretend to abhor bullying, Nick Saban is setting a terrible example, because he is an outright bully himself. And he has millions of people watching him perform from his huge bully pulpit.
Saban owes us all an apology, including Kiffin, who by the way, is a grown man –not a teenage football player. A grown man who was once head coach of the Tennessee Vols and the Oakland Raiders.
Taking a verbal lashing on national TV is both humiliating and disgraceful. And giving one to another adult is downright juvenile.
Other grown men have taken Saban tongue lashings. The last and most public one came at the expense of ESPN’s Paul Finebaum at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama. Finebaum had the gall to point out that Saban was taking heat for the decision to not suspend Cam Robinson or Hootie Jones following their May 17 arrest after small amounts of marijuana were found in their car.
According to Al.com, Saban said on air he didn’t care about critics. “If they really did something wrong, they would have been charged with something,” Saban said.
Finebaum called that “debatable.”
“Do we condone the behavior?” Saban insisted. “No. But you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty in this country regardless if you get convicted in the media or not, which is what you’re doing.”
At the end of the interview, away from the mics, a camera caught Saban dressing down Finebaum. Later Paul admitted Saban somewhat berated him, but never revealed the reason or what he said. Nor did he retaliate.
Finebaum, by the way, is the closest thing to a real friend that Saban has in the legitimate media.
On Sunday after the Saban meltdown, I mailed Finebaum and asked what he thought of the “ass-chewing” Saban gave Kiffin — and if he could identify.
“Well I don’t know that feeling,” he wrote back. “In my case, I was challenging Saban on an important issue that needed to be asked. Lane was a victim of a drive-by.”
So what would have prompted Saban to verbally assault Kiffin?
“I’m not still not certain why Saban did it,” said Finebaum. “Although I’m sure it was because he can. These things are mostly for show-pure drama. Saban wants focus on Ole Miss to be better and he blows up on a guy he couldn’t have last year’s national title without. Go figure.”
Sideline demeanor of coaches is occasionally held in question, as was the case last season when Jim McElwain was barbecued by the media and some bloggers for exploding in the face of running back Kelvin Taylor, who had made a throat-slashing gesture after scoring a touchdown. McElwain’s judgment wasn’t good, but at least he was hollering at player, not at a coach — and with a justifiable reason. And he later semi-apologized.
McElwain’s predecessor, Will Muschamp, aka “Coach Boom,” had his ugly moments of “ass-chewing” players publicly — remember, he worked for Saban twice — but seems to have gotten a better grip on his demeanor since.
Steve Spurrier was no angel in the visor-flinging, quarterback-yanking, officials-working era of his career. By comparison, however, the HBC was tame and just coached with emotion. Spurrier made have spoken a harsh word or two, but I never saw him pistol-whip an assistant coach with his tongue.
And in a half century of watching SEC football – although granted we never got to see the up-close sideline shots like they do today – I don’t recall coaches acting like that. Not Les Miles, or Mark Richt or, for that matter, Vince Dooley or Bear Bryant.
Saban’s public display of bullying will be justified as a hard-nose tactic, “coaching coaches” and saluted by some as ingenious strategy, especially if Alabama smokes Ole Miss in Oxford Saturday.
To me, Saban looked like the poster boy for bullying.
(Buddy Martin has been one of America’s great sports journalists as a columnist, editor, broadcaster, author and TV producer for five decades. He has won close to 200 awards, including an Emmy. He co-wrote the best-selling book “”Urban’s Way” with coach Urban Meyer and has just released his latest book, co-authored with recently-retired coach Steve Spurrier, titled titled “”Head Ball Coach. My Life In Football, Doing It Differently — and Winning.” The book is available on Amazon and already is a best-seller.Buddy’s columns can be read on gridiron.com and southernpigskin.com, and he is the anchor of Southern Pigskin Tonight heard in nine markets in three states.
He is a third-generation Floridian and journalist, having begun his early career at the Ocala Star-Banner where his father and grandfather also launched their careers. From there, Buddy had a distinguished career in newspapers as editor/columnist at Florida Today, Gannett News Service, the St. Petersburg Times, The New York Daily News and The Denver Post. As managing editor of The Charlotte Sun in Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, Martin directed coverage of Hurricane Charley which won many state and national awards — and was one of three finalists in the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news.
For his role as an associate producer and editorial consultant for the NFL Today Show on CBS, Buddy was awarded an Emmy.Returning to his hometown a few years ago, Martin has served as editor in chief of Ocala Magazine and a columnist for Ocala Style.
Martin is the author of eight books. He also wrote the autobiographies of two Hall of Fame athletes – Terry Bradshaw and Dan Issel — and was awarded an Emmy while working with Bradshaw on “The NFL Today” at CBS Sports.
Among the awards he or his newspapers have claimed were best Best Lifestyle Section nationally (Penny-Missouri), Best Sunday Sports Section nationally (APSE), Best Feature Writer New York State (Associated Press) and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news (2005). He has been named best columnist or sports columnist in Florida for both magazines and newspapers six times.
Buddy is a Gator through-and-through. He was educated at the University of Florida. He will occasionally contribute The Buddy Martin column to woodypaige.com.)
Check out Buddy’s latest book, written with Steve Spurrier, “”Head Ball Coach. My Life in Football, Doing It Differently and Winning.” Find the link to Amazon for this book and Buddy’s other books in the book section of woodypaige.com.