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Saban, media off to prickly start in Alabama

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.