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August 14, 2012

HURT: Avoiding trouble an all-year job

August reached its midpoint, not quite a juncture where Nick Saban is comfortable talking about opponents, not even the University of Alabama's opening foe, Michigan. Instead, Tuesday's midpoint press conference touched on broader subjects - and even included the rarely-seen Saban sense of humor.

The Crimson Tide coach hinted at expanded practice access for reporters who could bear up under Tuscaloosa's heat after a 90-degree day that seemed worse because of the mild weather that blessed the previous few practices. Saban's hint was that he would allow reporters in as a "conditioning test." A few of us could pass, but don't expect it to actually happen unless the thermometer reaches 128.

The day took a more serious turn, though, when Saban was asked about LSU's situation with Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu, not in terms of outlandish transfer rumors but in the more general season of a trouble-plagued summer nationally. The address wasn't specific, but the quick, articulate answer showed that Saban has pondered a broader approach.

"This is not a football problem, this is a national problem," Saban said, clearly alluding to drug abuse. "This is a problem with all students, except they don't go through regular drug testing. ..."

Student-athletes, who are receiving scholarships, it must be noted, are tested. Alabama has had problems, just like every other college in America, in football and other sports. But Saban clearly believes in the ounce of prevention being better than a pound of suspensions, and he does not stop at an ounce.

"We have sports psychiatrists, sports psychologists that cover every issue," he said. "We have a peer intervention program that I would put up against anybody in the country. We talk about mental conditioning for success, setting goals for yourself, having a positive attitude towards the goals. We are constantly making an investment in our players making good decisions and understanding the consequences of bad decisions and how they can affect your future."

Saban mentioned Alabama's "marvelous group of speakers" who have discussed not just drugs but gambling, domestic relations and other potential problem areas. But he also said that no amount of outside influence overcomes the inner quality of maturity.

"Mature people have foresight. They can see what happens. They understand the consequences of their behavior. Sometimes immature people don't, (but) we most certainly want to develop that as quickly as we can."

One thing that has been noticeable around college football is that talent hasn't rendered some fine players - Mathieu, Greg Reid at Florida State, Michael Dyer at Arkansas State and others - above discipline. For all the sniping about discipline that fans of rival programs cast back and forth, I think most college football coaches know that there has to be an uncrossable line or a team will spiral out of control. So while it is easy to see Saban's reiteration of Alabama's proactive approach as a discussion about something other than the approaching season - it really isn't.



Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.


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