Nick Saban took the podium at SEC media days Thursday afternoon, and, as usual, he spoke about a mix of Alabama-specific and comprehensive college football topics.
After a news-filled offseason that included rumors of leaving for Texas, landing another No. 1 recruiting class, lobbying for a rule that would slow down uptempo offenses and fielding questions about the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, Saban finally got to speak again on a national platform, and his appearance did not disappoint.
When he wasn't being drowned out by a mic-adjacent mouth breather, Saban provided a number of useful sound bites.
Here is what we learned from the press conference.
Kenyan Drake and Jarran Reed Will Stay on the Team
At first, Saban tried to speak in broad, theoretical terms with regard to player discipline. But it was hard not to think of running back Kenyan Drake and defensive lineman Jarran Reed—both of whom are dealing with legal issues—when he said things like this:
Nick Saban: "There is not one player that I've kicked off of the team that has gone on to do anything (positive)."— Josh Kendall (@JoshatTheState) July 17, 2014
Saban uses analogy of players who have been arrested to parents having problems with their kids. "You can't kick people out of your family."— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) July 17, 2014
Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News agreed:
Saban w/ a long speech about discipline. Seems to be about Kenyan Drake without naming him. Doesn't sound like a kick-him-off situation.— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) July 17, 2014
You could argue whether Saban was taking a shot at Georgia head coach Mark Richt and Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel—both of whom made some high-profile dismissals (such as Josh Harvey-Clemons and Dorial Green-Beckham) this offseason—but for now, let's focus on what his statements mean for Alabama.
More likely than not, Drake and Reed will have to miss some time but won't see serious recourse (unless things change in their respective legal cases). In fact, Saban went so far as to confirm this once he was done musing about player discipline in general:
Nick Saban on Kenyan Drake and Jarran Reed: Those players are suspended but NOT kicked off the team. #Bama— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) July 17, 2014
This is big for the Tide.
Drake is projected as the third running back behind T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, but he proved he could contribute with 694 rushing yards on 92 carries last season. If Yeldon or Henry goes down with an injury, he will become a big part of the offense. Even if they both stay healthy, he should have a role to play.
Reed, meanwhile, saw time running with the first-team defense during spring practice. Alabama has loads of talent and depth along the defensive line, so it would have been able to stomach his loss. But that Reed was playing over so much talent and depth in the first place speaks to how good he can be.
With West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss scheduled to start the season, Alabama could (hopefully) afford as long as a three-game suspension to either of those players. With Florida looming in the fourth game, anything longer would be flirting with trouble.
Saban didn't get specific, but he did make it sound like these would be short instead of long-term disciplinary issues.
And that is a good thing.
The Postseason Needs to Change, but Not by Expanding the Playoff
Almost every coach at every power-conference media days will be asked about the College Football Playoff in the next few weeks, and their opinions—like our own—are sure to vary.
But, like it or not, Saban's opinion matters more than most. It's sensational to say Saban "has the ear" of the NCAA higher-ups—that he's some sort of puppet-master who gets through the legislation he wants—but he has proven to have a lucid mind on bigger issues and is someone the movers and shakers respect enough to listen to.
On the topic of CFP expansion—the notion of adding four, 12 or even more teams to the current four-team format—Saban did not sound keen, saying it would push players at certain schools past the "saturation point" whereby they can focus on academics:
Saban on continued playoff expansion: We'd be getting to the saturation point of how many games a CFB player can play relative to academics— Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey) July 17, 2014
Fifteen games is a lot. That is almost a professional schedule (sans playoffs). But even as the college game inches closer and closer to NFL resemblance, these kids cannot shoulder the same workload as those who play football full time. They have other obligations to attend to.
However, that doesn't mean Saban does not want to tweak the postseason. Looping bowl selection into the SEC scheduling debate—refresher course: The league decided to stay with an eight-game conference schedule, much to Saban's dismay—he said the NCAA should look into changing the six-win rule for bowl eligibility:
Saban wants 5-7 teams in a bowl that play tougher schedule instead of 6-win teams that "manipulate" their schedule to make a bowl.— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) July 17, 2014
Specifically, he suggested having the CFP selection committee choose all of the bowls (instead of just the six CFP bowls), much like the selection committee for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament:
Nick Saban wants the Playoff Selection Committee to pick all the bowl match ups, not just the bowl games under their control.— Knox Bardeen (@KnoxonFox) July 17, 2014
Ostensibly, choosing who makes the postseason on overall merit instead of a context-lacking baseline would encourage teams to schedule harder games.
Playing FCS cupcakes is sensible so long as getting to six wins is mandatory, but it would shine a negative light without many positives if five (or even four) wins would work just as well.
The logistics would need some tweaking, but, on principle, this is not the worst idea in the world. Is it likely to happen, though?
That's a different question.
Jacob Coker Still Needs to Win the Quarterback Job
You can file this one under "coach speak." Or at least I think you can. Still, it would be remiss not to touch on Jacob Coker, the Florida State transfer whom many think will win the starting quarterback position.
Despite the prevailing opinion that Coker will beat out Blake Sims for the job, Saban reiterated that the team feels differently:
Saban: "That's not the perception internally," on Jake Coker already having earned Alabama's quarterback job.— Edgar Thompson (@osgators) July 17, 2014
When asked by Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee to talk about Coker as a player, he even changed the topic to Sims:
Saban answers my question about Jacob Coker's strengths and weaknesses by talking about Blake Sims.— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) July 17, 2014
All of this makes sense. I'm not even sure it constitutes a "takeaway," since the answers were so predictable. Coker still hasn't practiced with the team, so it would be heresy for a coach to say he's the favorite (or worse, that he's already earned the job). It would not be fair to the players who have poured their sweat onto the field.
Still, no matter what Saban says, people are going to peg this as Coker's job until seeing otherwise. Actions speak louder than words, and Sims' last action was an ugly performance in the A-Day game.
We will see in a month or so whether this means anything.
Saban Never Discussed the Texas Job
Saban was asked directly about the head coaching vacancy at Texas this offseason, and he confirmed that he never had any contact with the university and that he plans on finishing his career in Tuscaloosa:
Saban on Texas job: "I didn't have any conversations with them. Nobody offered me anything."— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) July 17, 2014
Saban on Texas: "If I didn't have any conversations with them, there must not have been very much interest."— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) July 17, 2014
Take this with a grain of salt if you must.
Saban said the same kind of things to the Miami media before leaving the Dolphins to join Alabama in the first place. Like a mistress who eventually becomes a wife, Alabama fans can never entirely trust what comes out of Saban's mouth regarding other coaching positions. Given how they got their own start together, doing so would be myopic.
Still, Saban sounded forthright—or at least as forthright as he possibly can—in dismissing the Texas claims. Given the rumors that the Longhorns were willing to pay him a $100 million salary, as Paul Finebaum claims in his upcoming book (h/t Bob Carlton of AL.com), it feels safe to say that Saban is committed to the program.
And, really, why wouldn't he be?
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT