Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban loves a good rant. Arguably the greatest college football coach ever didn’t get where he is by biting his tongue and moving on. Saban is intense, straight-forward, and always speaks exactly what’s on his mind. Sometimes, that can get him into trouble.
After Alabama’s scrimmage on Saturday, Saban was discussing his team’s depth and how they’ll be replacing talent lost from last year. One question was aimed specifically at the underclassmen who left early for last year’s NFL Draft and how that affects the team this season. In classic Saban fashion, he didn’t pull any punches when he condemned players all over college football choosing to leave early in pursuit of their NFL dreams.
“I think in the last five years — not counting this year — there’s been 380 players, or there about, go out early for the draft and 25 percent of those guys didn’t even get drafted. And another 25 percent weren’t on a team in three years. So that means 50 percent of the guys that went out early for the draft had failed careers.”
“The person that loses in that is the player.”
— Nick Saban
From the 2014 NFL Draft through 2018, there have been 479 underclassmen to leave school early and enter the draft. Among them, 155 of those kids went undrafted. Using my top-notch calculator skills, that means one in every three underclassmen won’t be even picked if they leave school early.
In 2019, a record of 135 underclassmen declared for this year’s NFL Draft.
Saban’s right. There’s a huge problem in college football with kids leaving school to chase their NFL dreams, and more importantly, get paid. Football careers are short as it is, so the pressure is higher than ever to make a living before the game passes them by, or worse, they suffer an injury.
But what Saban said next was just uncalled for.
“You’re a third round draft pick, and we had one here last year — I’m not mentioning any names — goes and starts for his team. He’s making third-round money, which is not that great. [He could] be the first guy taken at his position this year probably and make 15, 18 million dollars more. So the agent makes out. The club makes out. Now they got a guy that’s going to play for that kind of money for three more years.”
Saban might not want to mention former players’ names, but unfortunately for him, we have brains that can easily decipher his not-so-cryptic message.
The only Alabama football player selected in the third round pick of the 2018 NFL Draft was safety Ronnie Harrison, who was taken 93rd overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Harrison was a First-Team All-SEC selection as a junior in 2017 and came to Alabama as one of the best high school safeties in the country. As a rookie last season, Harrison started eight games for Jacksonville and became their permanent stater after strong safety Barry Church was released in December.
You better believe Harrison was listening when Saban started talking, too.
“Coaches get so Butt Hurt Now Days About a Kid Making a Decision to live out his dreams and Go Pro. Makes me think do you really care about the success of the kid or how well your program performs? #KeepMyNameOutYaMouth #Bama #Saban #GodGotIt”
— Ronnie Harrison, h/t Twitter
Nick Saban’s comments may have legitimate credibility, but to call out his own Alabama player who made the decision to improve his life is disrespectful. Harrison left Tuscaloosa for a reason. Whether that reason was based solely on his talent or because the defensive back needed to start earning money for his family wasn’t considered when Saban not-so-quietly brought him up.
To say that players with fifth-round grades or even free-agent grades could definitely earn first-round draft grades after one more year in college is hard to justify. These are personal decisions that Saban shouldn’t indirectly call out like this.
After the media storm that followed Saban’s comments, he said the following at the end of practice later that week without being asked to do so:
“I’d just like to make one statement to make sure everybody understands who we are and what we do. Our whole goal in this program is to help people be more successful in life. So, we support every player in every decision they make, regardless of what it is.
“We want to help them with all their decisions to have the best opportunity to be successful and create the most value for themselves and their future. Once any player decides what he’s going to do in any part of our program in any way, we’re going to support him in every way that we can. That’s what we’ve always done. I think our players pretty much understand that.
“So, we have a lot of players that come back here a lot, they’re very proud of what they were able to accomplish while they were here at the university and they’re always welcomed back. That’s something that’s very important to us, and it’s very important to the program. So, thank you.”
— Nick Saban, h/t BamaOnLine
Everybody knows that Saban only wants the best for his players after college, but what else should they do? Football is a dangerous game, and it’s not like the NCAA is paying these kids anyways.