Nick Saban vs. Ronnie Harrison: Who's right?
How many soap boxes does Nick Saban have? More than national championship rings?
That was my first question after Saban created another firestorm last week when he took exception to so many underclassmen leaving early for the NFL Draft.
I’m sure you saw the clip or read his comments.
“Now, we have guys that have no draft grades, seventh-round grades, free-agent grades, fifth-round grades that are going out of the draft. And the person that loses in that is the player,” Saban told reporters. “If you’re a third-round draft pick, and we had one here last year — I’m not going to say any names — goes and starts for his team, so he’s making third-round money, which is not that great. He’d be the first guy taken at his position this year, probably, and make $15-18 million more.
“So, the agent makes out, the club makes out, and now they’ve got a guy that’s going to play for that kind of money for three more years, all right? And everybody out there’s saying, ‘Well, get to your next contract.’ Well, there’s obviously 50 percent of these guys never getting to a next contract. And that doesn’t mean all the rest of them got to one, either.”
Ronnie Harrison, the unnamed third-round target of Saban’s missive, didn’t take the advice kindly. He fired back in a way we haven’t seen. Players generally reserve #KeepMyNameOutYaMouth for coaches who cash in on their players’ success at one school by promoting it at their new school.
We’ve seen that.
I’ve never seen a former Tide player go after Saban.
Coaches get so Butt Hurt Now Days About a Kid Making a Decision to live out his dreams and Go Pro. Makes me think do you really care about the success of the kid or how well your program performs? 🤷🏿♂️💯 #KeepMyNameOutYaMouth #Bama #Saban #GodGotIt
— Ronnie Harrison II (@Rharr_15) April 7, 2019
Others pounced, also, including Saban’s favorite whipping boy.
If 60 juniors got second and third round grades how would they all go in top 15 if they come back?Some come back and go in worse rounds than what their jr grades were. Love when kids leave and fulfill their dreams. What do u say if they get hurt and lose 💰? #facts #MattBarkley https://t.co/FNzHtxxhHe
— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) April 8, 2019
(I’m surprised Kiffin didn’t add #cometothefaUfor3years.)
And Shannon Sharpe reminded everybody that every elite player is one play from working a desk job …
"Who do you think made more money: a 3rd round pick, @Rharr_15, or a college player last year? Coach Saban, this looks real bad. You got $9M guaranteed. … Marcus Lattimore came back to improve his stock. How did that work out for him? I'm taking the money." — @ShannonSharpe pic.twitter.com/CEGhPLZgYo
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) April 8, 2019
So who is right?
Obviously Alabama’s championship hopes are a lot better in 2018 with Ronnie Harrison blanketing Justyn Ross instead of rotating in and out of the Jaguars’ secondary.
And Saban genuinely cares about his players’ welfare. There are hundreds of cautionary tales about juniors who left too early and weren’t drafted or drafted late. That number continues to rise. Last year 37 underclassmen who declared were not drafted. Not only are they are not getting paid to play football, they’re not in school, either, working toward their degree.
But we’re kidding ourselves if we think his interest is completely altruistic.
What’s the first thing John Calipari mentions when somebody questions whether he has lost his recruiting touch? The “billions” of dollars his players have made in the NBA.
Why? That benefits him, too, to the tune of a lifetime contract at Kentucky.
So of course there is some selfish motivation from Saban. We’ve seen that before, too. He frequently blasts the transfer epidemic. He lauded Jalen Hurts for sticking around, rightfully so, but also flipped Patrick Surtain on Signing Day and started a transfer in Saivion Smith.
More recently, he’s chastised assistants who have left, questioning their loyalty.
Why? Those players and coaches benefitted him and the program. If he were truly outraged by a lack of commitment, he’d still be coaching at Michigan State. Or perhaps LSU. Maybe even Miami.
He’s not. He’s conveniently outraged.
Having said that … he’s not wrong, either. Harrison did lose money. Had he returned — and stayed healthy, a huge caveat — he would be battling Greedy Williams for early first-round money. That’s generations of life-changing money relative to third-round money.
He’s also right in how cruel pro football can be, where salary cap driven front-office decisions can end careers just as quickly as a blown out Achilles.
You can logically and passionately argue this from both sides. I’m probably more interested in the impact.
Nobody has come after Saban like this, certainly not a former player. Will it matter? Will it impact the next elite recruit? Almost everybody Saban recruits has realistic NFL aspirations. Will it come down to, say, Jimbo Fisher or Kirby Smart or Dabo Swinney laying out a 3-year plan to get to the NFL vs. Saban insisting that the recruit trust the 4- or 5-year process?
Recruiting drives results. Saban might not like the way the game is trending, but blasting kids’ decisions isn’t the way to win it.