Heading into the locker room at halftime Monday night, the headlines for Tuesday were looking like something like this; “Nick Saban loses second straight title game.” “Alabama gets out Smarted.” (Kirby Smart reference).
But the headlines for Tuesday are instead calling Alabama head coach Nick Saban a genius. But is he really?
Nick Saban made the decision at halftime to let freshman, Tua Tagovailoa start at quarterback over Jalen Hurts who was 25-2 coming into this game at Alabama. But did he really make that decision? Here’s my take on the situation. From people that I spoke with throughout the organization, Tagovailoa looked like and outplayed Hurts several times in practice and from most of the people I spoke with always looked like the clear cut starter over Hurts. So if Saban is so good why didn’t he want to start Tagovailoa?
Maybe winning had something to do with it. Which I get it, if it’s not broke don’t fix it. But I think it was more than that. Rumblings of Tagovailoa transferring started around the mid-season point and once head coach Chip Kelly accepted the UCLA job, Tagovailoa’s transfer rumors grew even more. Grew to the point that several people believed that Tagovailoa was gone after the National Championship game, despite the outcome.
“I think that’s a great question,” said Lane Kiffin on the Dan Patrick Show. “If this second half doesn’t flip like this, and Alabama is moving the ball and doesn’t change (quarterbacks), people that really know what’s going on would tell you that Tua was leaving. Because Tua thought that he should be the starting quarterback and had outperformed him in practice and coach never gave him an opportunity.”
Tagovailoa and Marcus Mariota both went to the same high school and Tagovailoa idolizes Mariota. Idolizes to the point that Tagovailoa called Oregon himself before committing to any schools because he wanted to play their that badly.
But here’s where things get interesting, Chip Kelly is back coaching College Football again and is doing so in the PAC-12. Now if he were to transfer, he would have to sit out a year, which he was already prepared to do. And if he were to sit out a year, his performance last night would just leave scouts salivating from the mouth as he sat out for a year, so it wouldn’t hurt his draft stock.
Then after sitting out for a year, he would then give Kelly a full year to prep and recruit to build the perfect team to fit his style of play. A style of play that Kelly already knows, perfected and molded Mariota into. It would be an as close as you could get, dream type of scenario for Tagovailoa as he would be playing under the same coach that turned Mariota into a star.
So why did Saban bring in Tagovailoa to start the second half? It wasn’t a question of his talent. Saban knew that Tagovailoa was the more talented guy of the two (Him and Hurts). Heck the student paper knew that. Saban brought in Tagovailoa in the second half because at that point he had nothing to lose. If he rolled with Hurts to finish the game they were going to lose and he was going to for sure lose Tagovailoa as he was set to transfer. But Saban in that longer than usual halftime, thought to himself that there’s a real chance here that if I play Tagovailoa and we somehow win this football game that I look like a genius and this guy stays.
It was an easy decision to make. An easy decision for any coach that can put pride aside. Because that’s the only thing it could be right? Tagovailoa threatens to leave and transfer (He never officially did on the record), he’s clearly the better guy at practice and continued to out perform Hurts, but because he threatened to leave your program because he didn’t want to waste away in the background, Saban keeps him on the bench as a pride thing. As a “listen kid you’re a freshman and you’re not going to dictate what I do. I’m a five-time champion, I know what’s best for this team,” type of deal.
Now that’s not a real quote. But re-read this again and actually let yourself digest this story. The facts are there. Several people around the University and team that I spoke with said that Tagovailoa was clearly better than Hurts for a while now. So why not play the better quarterback? I’ll let you decide that one. But take it how you want it, if Saban doesn’t commit to this guy fast, Tagovailoa could be as good as gone.