HOOVER, Ala. — The pressure was on University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban on Wednesday morning, and not just because he was hitting golf balls in front of hundreds of onlookers.
Before most people arrived to work, Saban was on the practice tee at Greystone Golf & Country Club for the Pro-Am of the PGA Regions Tradition, helping raise money for Children’s of Alabama (which provides specialized medical care for ill and injured children).
It’s the kind of outing where the closest thing to news ought to be comedian Steve Harvey saying that he’s moved on from his gaffe at the Miss Universe pageant—although one brave fan did ask him to autograph a photo from it (he declined)—and what kind of fashion statement John Daly would make (pineapple print pants).
Considering that the annual event is held just outside of Birmingham, Alabama, Saban would have been the biggest attraction for the media anyway, but the Crimson Tide having two players arrested early Tuesday morning made it doubly so.
Consequently, the first question to the coach was about one of them, junior offensive tackle Cam Robinson.
“I talked to him and there’s nothing really different on it, we’re still gathering information about the circumstance and the situation,” Saban said. “We’ll figure out of there’s something internally that we need to do, that’s appropriate relative to what the situation is.”
What is known is that Robinson and safety Hootie Jones, who were home in Monroe, Louisiana, were arrested in a park at approximately 2 a.m. CT.
Jones is facing charges for possession of a controlled substance and illegal carrying of a weapon; Robinson for possession of a controlled substance, illegal possession of a firearm and possession of a stolen gun, which is a felony.
It’s the felony part that makes this especially tricky, in addition to it having occurred in another state.
Without getting into the seriousness of each charge, or the growing trend to legalize marijuana, this isn’t like trying to decide whether to attempt a two-point conversion. There isn’t a chart involved for what’s next.
Moreover, there’s a legal process that must be adhered to and numerous hurdles to be cleared. For example, one of the first things to keep an eye out for is if Robinson is granted youthful offender status. The laws are different in each state, but Robinson is 20 years old. He doesn’t turn 21 until October 9.
Another potentially huge issue is that the gun was reported stolen in Baldwin County, Alabama, which means more than one state’s involved in the investigation, which might potentially slow the process.
Alabama is about 80 days away from opening training camp, and while Robinson obviously would like nothing more than to be there, it’s obviously way too early to speculate on his potential status.
That puts the team in a bind as the All-SEC selection has the potential to be a strong candidate for the Outland Trophy for best interior lineman and a top pick in the 2017 NFL draft. If you were to take a poll of Alabama fans last week on who’s the athlete the team could least afford to lose this season, he probably would have won.
Yet now Alabama has to start making contingency plans and getting another player ready to play left tackle. Among the options will be true freshman Jonah Williams, senior Korren Kirven, left guard Lester Cotton and maybe even Ross Pierschbacher, who just made the move to center.
“Look, I’m not going to talk about that right now,” Saban said when asked what could be next, but added: “We do it internally. It’s not something that we do it publicly, and it’s not something that we’re going to do today.
“If we can change their behavior, based on what we do, that would be the purpose of discipline. Discipline is not necessarily just punishment, which a lot of people view it that way. It’s how you change somebody’s behavior so they have a better chance to be successful. That’s the way that we’ve always done it, that’s the way that we try and do it. That’s the way I’d like to do it with my own children. I think that’s the way that most parents would like to do it with their own children.”
If anything, Saban’s known for giving second chances, and of the seven players Alabama had selected in the recent NFL draft, three essentially got one. Running back Kenyan Drake had twice been suspended for a game but wasn’t following his arrest for crossing a police line in 2014. Defensive lineman Jarran Reed had a DUI, and cornerback Cyrus Jones had domestic violence charges filed against him that were quickly dropped.
Of course defensive lineman D.J. Pettway was kicked off the team after being involved in the 2013 mugging of two students along with Eddie Williams, Tyler Hayes and running back Brent Calloway, who were all immediately suspended. After a year at the same junior college as Reed, he returned to Alabama and eventually earned his degree.
Incidentally, Williams was arrested the day before the attacks for having an unlicensed gun. The only one of the four who wasn’t granted youthful offender status ended up pleading guilty to second-degree robbery, which is a felony, and sentenced to five years of supervised probation.
Running back Bo Scarbrough missed the first four games last season due to an eligibility issue, and defensive lineman Marcell Dareus was suspended at the start of the 2010 season. But in both cases the NCAA was involved, just like it is with defensive back Tony Brown this season.
In this situation with Jones and Robinson, things would be very different if either of the two had taken action against someone or if there had been any violence involved. The same goes if police would have charged them with possession with intent to distribute controlled dangerous substances.
Coupled with so many teammates immediately jumping to their defense on social media and Monroe being known as a high-crime community, at this point one could give them the benefit of doubt that they just made a really bad mistake.
But police are obviously still looking into the stolen gun, which could change that. So there really was nothing that Saban could say on Wednesday.
“I think everybody knows about the Charles Baldwin situation,” he said, referring to the former junior college offensive lineman who was recently dismissed from the team.
“We will announce these things when they come. I appreciate what you all have to do, but I don’t know we can’t all do our jobs and release things in the appropriate fashion.”
At this point, no matter what he does, Saban’s going to be criticized, and the university has already taken the public-relations hit even though there appears to have been no previous issues with either player. Robinson especially was expected to be a team leader this season.
So Saban talked to reporters longer than just about every other coach here—Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze took three questions and predictably said “I can’t comment” about the ongoing NCAA investigation, and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn spoke for one minute, 37 seconds—and then started warming up to hit the course.
He’s essentially in the same place regarding this problem, just getting started.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.