Saban, media off to prickly start in Alabama

Updated: April 13, 2007, 12:43 PM ET
Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Coach Nick Saban's honeymoon with the media didn't last very long at Alabama.

Yet to take the field for anything but a practice with the Crimson Tide, Saban has found himself on the defensive lately. The $4 million-a-year coach is dealing with critical columns, radio talk shows and reporters' questions about restrictions imposed on the media since his arrival.

Saban insists he isn't doing anything differently from previous coaching stops -- or from other college coaches.

"I don't know if I really do things that much differently than everybody else," Saban said Thursday during a teleconference with reporters. "I just think people lately, at least since I went to Miami and came here, a lot of people seem to want to point out things I do differently.

"It may not be as different from everybody else in a lot of ways."

The Saban Way is somewhat different for Tuscaloosa. Saban has allowed only limited access to players and assistant coaches, alternating days when he and Tide players are available to the media. Assistant coaches generally don't speak publicly.

Saban also closed last Friday's scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium, while such events typically were open to the media under his predecessors at Alabama. Allowing the media to attend only a few minutes of practice sessions, however, is a carryover from former Bama coaches, including Mike Shula, who was fired to make way for Saban.

Saban's restrictions have prompted critical columns in state papers, as well as several major Web sites. He said he called and apologized to SI.com writer Stewart Mandel for brusquely refusing to do a previously scheduled interview after a scrimmage.

"I want to have a good relationship with the media," Saban said. "I have a lot of respect for what the media does for our program and for our players. I've always had that.

"I try to create a balance that I feel is good for what we want to accomplish here and what gives you the opportunity as the media to do your job effectively. I try to give as much positive information as I can relative to what's happening in the program."

Saban said he might adopt "a little more flexibility" in his access rules once he builds relationships and trust with Alabama media who cover the Tide. But he also has made it clear that his first priority is winning and rebuilding a storied program that has been up-and-down in recent years.

"I respect what everybody does, and I hope they respect what we're trying to do," Saban said.

He also has sparred verbally with reporters at times. Some of that, he said, is meant in good humor. The ultra-intense Saban insists he has lightened up over the years.

"I do a lot of kidding around sometimes with the media in our press conferences," Saban said. "I hope everybody takes things that are said in jest. That's how they're meant.

"Everybody used to say I'm too serious. Now that I'm a little more lighthearted in some of the things, I guess you get criticized for that."

Alabama hired Saban away from the Miami Dolphins with an eight-year, $32 million deal in January that made him college football's highest paid coach. Shortly after he was hired, Saban came under fire for using what many consider a derogatory term for Cajuns during an off-the-record talk with reporters from Miami that wound up posted on the Internet.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press