June 9, 2016
VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. — Nick Saban was relaxed on Thursday morning and had every reason to be.
It was the 10th annual Nick’s Kids Golf Tournament located at the Old Overton Club, just outside of Birmingham, where the majority of funds for his foundation to help children in the region are raised.
Every year Saban calls the day they distribute the checks, during a special luncheon just before the start of training camp, his favorite of the year, but this one has to be up there as well. That the weather was nearly perfect didn’t hurt any.
“This is something that’s really close to our heart,” he said before warming up, and didn’t even allow a hypothetical question from a reporter about if he’d like to someday be the commissioner of college football alter his mood.
“I know you all like to create news, but not today,” Saban said with a smile.
Perhaps just as notable was what Saban wasn’t doing Thursday. He wasn’t bouncing around the country trying to get exposure for his program or sitting in an office trying to figure out how to get his coaches to satellite camps being held across the nation.
He also wasn’t trying to make waves. He was simply getting ready to play the 17th hole, a 175-yard par-3 from the blue tees (145 from the white), over and over again with every group that contributed to the foundation named in his father’s honor.
“We’re trying to get guys to cover the camps, but most of our assistant coaches and myself, I’m not going to go to any satellite camps,” he clarified.
We sort of made the decision that it’s more important—especially in this time period because there’s only limited time periods in the summer that we have to spend with our players. The first couple, three weeks of June, a couple of weeks in July. We’re going to invest a little more time in that, especially me.
These are our choices.
They’re good choices. Although Saban has been outspoken against satellite camps due to the risk of their changing the recruiting landscape and making it more like what exists in college basketball, he’s also emphasized that there’s something not right about the NCAA saying its fine for coaches to spend more time with potential recruits than their own players.
Besides, it hasn’t been the calmest of summers in Tuscaloosa, where football has long been considered a year-round sport.
Most notably, two players, left tackle Cam Robinson and reserve safety Hootie Jones, were arrested when they went home to Louisiana and are facing drugs and weapons charges, with their arraignment scheduled for June. 16.
Defensive line coach Bo Davis also resigned following alleged recruiting violations, which prompted Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh to lash out at Saban via Twitter after he railed again against satellite camps at the recent SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida.
After some back-and-forth in the public eye, the verbal sparring has stopped, at least for now.
“I have no beef about Jim Harbaugh,” Saban said. “I didn’t say anything about him and I’m not saying anything about him right now. Everybody’s got the right to manage their program like they want. I’m not in any way critical of anything he’s doing, or done, or said, or anything else, and don’t really care.
“I’m worried about what we do and what our program does … That’s enough for me.”
Saban was backing up those words during his last scheduled public appearance until SEC Media Days, which are remarkably just a month away (July 11-14).
Alabama just held a major camp of its own on its campus, which included numerous high-profile prospects, and the program is fresh off not only winning another national championship, but another recruiting title.
Elsewhere, Alabama staffers are working some of those same camps as the Michigan coaches, just not quite as aggressively or publicly. Credit Harbaugh for creating a lot of buzz about his program, but the Crimson Tide coaches know that their chances of landing a recruit out of a satellite camp are pretty slim.
Perhaps Alabama will have a different approach down the road.
In the meantime, Saban instead spent a day trying to add to the $6 million the Nick’s Kids Foundation has distributed over the years, and helped Habitat for Humanity build a house for each national championship that Alabama claims (the tradition began after the 2011 tornado, and No. 16 is under way).
In addition to the donors, he was surrounded by some of this year’s team leaders, former players, the coaching staff and numerous others who help make Crimson Tide football what it is—even staffer Ed Marynowitz, who’s return was made official this week with Alabama naming him the Crimson Tide’s associate athletics director for football.
Thursday their focus was on helping others during a nice outing, but Friday it’ll be back on trying to win No. 17.
“It’s all a work in progress,” Saban said. “If I look at last year’s team at this time, or coming out of spring practice, it was a work in progress. We weren’t where we needed to be. I don’t think we were where we needed to be until we lost to Ole Miss.”
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.
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