Nick Saban has a reputation for being somewhat combative with the media, and it's not entirely undeserved. (Such as when he scolds the media for picking his team to win the SEC. Yes, he was angry at the media for saying his team would be great. This is actually somewhat understandable when you look at the track records of those picks.) But he's also the only coach who makes sure every year before he leaves the podium to deliver what seems like a heartfelt and earnest thanks to the media for covering the league. Others throw in a thanks at some point, but it seems genuine from Saban. And perhaps is more noticeable because of his reputation.
Then again, it fits in with an almost zen-like quality to Saban's press conferences. There's less emphasis on Xs and Os and winning as many games as possible than you might expect from a driven coach like Saban. Instead, the time is spent discussing how Alabama players need to focus on becoming the best they can be through hard work. It's an emphasis on preparation and executing every play exactly right. Saban sees those things as the key to winning, and it's hard to argue with the results.
Of course, the press conference had added gravity this year, in part because of the tornadoes that devastated Tuscaloosa County a few months ago. There's the death of Aaron Douglas that could be addressed. Saban addressed the tornadoes in the opening statement and made that moot. For some reason, Aaron Douglas goes completely unmentioned, unless I missed it in the session and just can't find it in the transcript. No such luck when it comes to Harvey Updyke Jr.
Updyke wasn't mentioned by name, but it was easy to see where a couple of the questions were going. Or maybe Saban just took an opportunity during a question about the Iron Bowl rivalry to make it clear that the alleged tree-killer was persona non grata in Saban's opinion.
I think our state is very, very important. I think the respect that we have for each other is very, very important, and in no way should affect the competitive rivalry we have with each other.
But I also think that some of the things that have been negatives are not really good. And I think there's just a small number of people who probably create this -- on both sides. This is not a criticism of one or the other. I would like to see our fans show class in terms of how we represent our institution and our state and our athletic programs. That would be really, really appreciated.
And if you didn't get the message the first time through, Saban had more when asked about a fan in the lobby wearing an "I hate Auburn" T-shirt.
I would tell him it's not personal, that it really isn't personal. That is not really the way that we should respect the opponents that we have.
Gene Chizik said similar things during his press conference. "If there's one thing that I could impart to everybody is that if the fan base as a whole had the same amount of respect for each other as the coaches and the players, then I think you'd see, you know, less of these things happen."
Maybe the tornado will help thaw things out, and maybe both coaches can cool things down. But it seems a lot more likely that the Harvey Updykes of the world are in their own universe and have largely lost radio contact with the place the rest of us call reality. Most fans, as both Chizik and Saban emphasized, aren't the problem. And as long as that's the case, there's not much to worry about when it comes to the Iron Bowl and the rivalry it inspires.