No one forgot to change the helmet number.
The white number 14, signifying another Alabama national championship, stood out against the crimson paint on the helmet sitting next to head coach Nick Saban, as he addressed reporters during the 2012 SEC Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel.
“I think you all know how excited I am, looking forward to this event,” he cracked. “The fact they moved it up a week really made me have a great summer.”
It’s almost a tradition for Saban to start things off each year with a semi-sarcastic remark about his love for the media, with which he has had a sometimes-prickly relationship over the years.
Nonetheless, the Crimson Tide coach always manages to say something each year that sets off a flurry of tweets, blog posts and Facebook messages. This time, it was his opinion on the new four-team national championship playoff, and whether the only teams to be considered should be those who won their conference championship — which Alabama did not do last season.
“Whoever's making the statements about conference champions is really making a statement against the SEC and against any league who has more than one good team who would qualify,” he quipped in a comment that sent computer keyboards into a frenzy, pushing Saban almost instantly into trending-topic status on Twitter.
Alabama was picked by Media Days attendees to finish second in the SEC West behind LSU. The Tigers were also picked to win the conference title, with Bama second. Georgia was chosen over South Carolina for the SEC East title.
Saban dodged a question about whether UAB should get its own football stadium. “I haven't really thought about it. I don't think it's really my place to make those kind of judgments. I don't really feel like I'm qualified to have an opinion as to whether UAB should have a stadium or not.”
An awkward, likely unintended moment came when Saban was asked about a ticket surcharge he had proposed to fund settlements for the victims of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.
“I don’t really have any feelings … personally,” Saban said, stopping for a breath in a place that brought nervous laughs from the crowd.
“Probably not a very good idea and I probably shouldn't have said it,” he finished. “I just think that more focus on outcome is always more beneficial that might create a situation in the future that would be beneficial to someone.”
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive mentioned the Penn State situation earlier in the week when he commented about the dangers of one person or program exerting too much power at a university. Saban was asked if he, or the Tide football program, might fall into that situation.
“Well, you know, it's not true if that's the perception,” Saban said. “I personally have a tremendous amount of respect for our athletic director, our chancellor, Bob Witt, the honesty and integrity that they run the program. When we have someone who doesn't do what they're supposed to, whether it's NCAA rules or something that might be criminal, those decisions get made by those people as to what is in the best interest of the university.”
Saban was effusive in his praise for All-American offensive lineman/center Barrett Jones, who will be playing his third position in his career for the Tide.
“Probably the only offensive lineman [like Jones] that I've ever been associated with was Bruce Matthews at the Houston Oilers,” Saban said. “He could play center, he could play guard, he could play tackle, he was a long snapper. He's the only guy that I ever remember. That's pretty high class there to be compared to someone like him.”
Saban was the first of four coaches to appear on the final day of Media Days. He was followed by one of his former assistants, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley.
“I think Derek Dooley has done a really good job,” Saban said. “I think he inherited a very difficult situation…. I think Derek has done a lot of things to create a lot of program stability there. I think he had a stroke of bad luck last year when he lost a very good quarterback and a very good receiver, which may have enhanced their ability to win a few more games, no doubt.”
Dooley, widely reported to be on the proverbial hot seat in Knoxville, made it clear that he expects the Volunteers to return to prominence in the SEC. “You won’t have Tennessee to kick around anymore,” Dooley said.