Alabama and Nick Saban Taking Huge Risk Signing Jonathan Taylor

Marc Torrence@marctorrenceAlabama Lead WriterJanuary 7, 2015

Photo courtesy 247Sports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Eighteen days ago, as Alabama was in the middle of Sugar Bowl prep for Ohio State, Drew Champlin of AL.com asked Nick Saban a routine question during a routine press conference about D.J. Pettway, the Crimson Tide’s defensive lineman in his second stint in Tuscaloosa after being kicked out of school his freshman year for second-degree robbery.

Saban, unexpectedly, turned his answer into a four-minute mini-speech on second chances, graduating players and not giving up on them.

Here’s video of the impassioned response, per AL.com:

It’s starting to look like Saban’s headline-making answer went deeper than just Pettway.

Alabama announced on Wednesday—the first day of classes for the 2015 semester—the signing of eight early enrollees from its 2015 recruiting class. Included on the list was JUCO defensive tackle Jonathan Taylor, a former Georgia Bulldog who was dismissed after a domestic violence arrest.

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Saban’s decision to sign Taylor is not the first time a player has come to Alabama with a troubled past. But none has been quite as brutal as Taylor’s.

It’s a massive risk for the seemingly untouchable Alabama coach, and one that has already drawn widespread criticism from the Crimson Tide fanbase. And it’s a risk that, should it backfire, would be a major black mark for Saban and Alabama.

The details of Taylor’s history are graphic, to say the least.

While at Georgia, Taylor was arrested on an aggravated assault/family violence charge and dismissed shortly thereafter, according to Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Per Towers’ report:

Taylor was placed into the custody of UGA Police at 4:45 a.m. Tuesday in response to a third-party complaint that he had physically assaulted his girlfriend during a domestic dispute at McWhorter Hall dormitory. Police said evidence and witness accounts indicate the 6-foot-4, 340-pound Taylor 'choked' and 'struck with a closed fist' his 5-11, 170-pound female victim.

According to Marc Weiszer of OnlineAthens.com, Taylor was indicted on November 25, and “the felony case remains in the pre-arraignment stage in Clarke County Superior Court.”

Photo courtesy 247Sports

And that was already Taylor’s second “strike.”

According to Towers, Taylor had previously been arrested for theft by deception after double-cashing meal reimbursement checks.

TideSports.com’s Andrew Bone first reported Taylor’s enrollment Wednesday night, and AL.com’s Champlin confirmed the news Wednesday morning.

During that time, many Alabama fans took to Twitter to express their frustration and disappointment at the decision by the coaching staff, which has typically been strict in its discipline policies for players who commit violations while on the team.

Hunter Johnson @HunterLJohnson

I don't like the idea of having a guy on Alabama's football team who choked/hit his girlfriend. There shouldn't be second chances for that.

The outrage is very understandable, given the serious nature of a domestic violence charge and the issue recently coming to the front lines in American sports.

Saban giving a second chance to an alleged domestic violence perpetrator goes against the grain of the current climate of discipline in sports for this type of crime.

Alabama spokesperson Deborah Lane released the following statement to Bleacher Report on Wednesday afternoon:

Jonathan Taylor was admitted to The University of Alabama following the same procedures that the UA Admissions office uses to evaluate any student who has dealt with legal issues. The admissions process includes representatives from academic, legal, student affairs, student conduct, UAPD and counseling. Athletics is not involved in the admissions process. Taylor’s continued enrollment depends on his ability to fulfill all requirements the University has specifically mandated for him during his time as a UA student.

Officials for Nick Saban have not responded for comment from the Alabama coach.

Aaron Suttles of TideSports.com provided further detail on Taylor’s requirements at UA:

1) He'll be required to regularly volunteer at a battered women's shelter. 2) He'll be required to attend weekly anger management counseling sessions. That is not the exhaustive conditions placed upon Taylor, but they are a couple of the main ones.

Saban has earned a reputation for being strict with disciplinary issues for players already on his team. Most notably and recently, he dismissed a quartet of players for an on-campus robbery of two students.

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Pettway was one of those players, and after a year in junior college, he was re-admitted to the team and graduated this past December. He has already announced his intentions to return for a final year of eligibility and pursue a master’s degree.

The precedent, as Saban so emphatically reminded everyone 18 days ago, is there for a redemption story. Already facing criticism for his recruitment of Taylor, Saban was given a chance to further plead his case in that December 20 press conference when asked about one that had worked out before.

But domestic violence is a different animal, especially in 2014 (and now 2015), where the issue is finally getting the serious attention it deserves. Allegedly choking and striking a female with a closed fist—a girlfriend literally half your size, who has placed a level of trust in you—is on a very different plane than getting in trouble for making mistakes while hanging around with the wrong crowd.

And even from a purely football perspective, a perspective that should be far down the list of priorities to consider here, the move is a massive risk.

Photo courtesy 247Sports

Alabama is already loaded on the defensive line. It is expected to return Jarran Reed, Pettway, A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen on a front that will be loaded with talent. Off-field issues aside, Taylor will already face an uphill climb to see the field immediately.

Perhaps this plays out like Saban hopes it will. Perhaps Saban has been given reason to believe Taylor has truly turned a corner. To his credit, Saban, to this point, has not given anyone reason to doubt that he has done his due diligence in this instance. And human instinct naturally wants to root for a genuine turnaround here, to see a person admit his mistakes at a young age and authentically change his life for the better.

But this could also backfire in a big way—for Saban, for the football team and for the Alabama community. As the national conversation on domestic violence and other women’s issues reaches a crescendo, Alabama could find itself taking a step back, rather than in the right direction in terms of public perception, should Taylor step out of line in a similar way.

It’s a risk Saban is, apparently, willing to take. And one he hopes will turn into another redemption story, rather than a huge hit in a time of progress.


Marc Torrence is the Alabama Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.