Issue of discipline takes center stage at SEC Media Days
HOOVER, Ala. – University of Alabama coach Nick Saban usually has something on his mind when he attends the annual SEC Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel, and Thursday was no exception.
This year it was discipline. More than a couple of times he brought up the subject before being prompted, but he still had to field questions about the status of running back Kenyan Drake and defensive lineman Jarran Reed following recent arrests.
“Those players are suspended but they’re not kicked off the team,” Saban said. “They’re suspended from activity. When they prove that I think or we think that they’re ready to come back and show a little bit more responsibility and discipline for how they handle themselves, their decision making, how they represent the university, their family and themselves, then we’ll allow them to come back on the team.
“We’re not making that judgment, you know, right now.”
On July 5, Drake was arrested and charged with one misdemeanor count of obstructing governmental operations after he crossed a police line to get to his car following a shooting. Although Drake is expected to split carries with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry this fall, he had a reduced role at the end of last season.
Drake had 694 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in 2013, but no carries against Auburn and didn’t play in the Sugar Bowl. He had also been suspended for the season opener for violating team rules.
Reed, a junior-college transfer who by the end of spring was taking snaps with the first unit at defensive end, was arrested for driving under the influence early Sunday morning. Linebacker Dillon Lee was arrested for the same offense in April.
“I know that many of you probably have children, especially that are adolescents,” Saban said. “I’ve gone through that with two who are now grown and either married and have children or are getting married. Both graduated from college. But sometimes these adolescents disappoint us. How do we react to that? How do we respond to that? When you have a family and you have someone in your family who disappoints you, we certainly can’t kick them out of our family. I think we have to try to support them, teach them, get them to do the right things because we love them, we care about them.
“I think we probably have some of those issues sometimes with our players. I think there’s a greater disparity in the behavioral culture of our young people now when they come to college, some people refer to it as maturity, than maybe there ever has been in the past. And we keep growing a little bit further and further apart with the older guys on our team versus the younger guys on our team.”
Saban’s statements were in sharp contrast to what Georgia coach Mark Richt said earlier in the day. When asked if his school’s tough drug policy put his team at a competitive disadvantage he said no.
“We don’t want our guys to do drugs, okay?” Richt said.
Like Saban, though, both coaches defended their programs and ability to help players develop and grow, both on and off the field. Saban pointed out that Alabama has had 89 players over the past six years who graduated before their eligibility was up, including 28 this past January at the Sugar Bowl.
But of course that’s not what gets headlines.
“I want you to know that there’s not one player, not one player, since I’ve been a head coach that I kicked off the team that ever went anywhere and amounted to anything and accomplished anything, playing or academically,” Saban said. “That’s not always the answer. Discipline is not punishment. Punishment is only effective when it can help change somebody’s behavior.”
Nevertheless, discipline and dedication were an issue for Alabama last season when it was coming off back-to-back national championships. It began in February when four players were arrested following the attack and robbery of students.
Linebackers Tyler Hayes and D.J. Pettway were charged with second-degree robbery while tight end Brent Calloway was charged with fraudulent use of a credit card. Safety Eddie Williams was charged with both crimes in addition to carrying a pistol without a license in an unrelated incident.
All four were kicked off the team, although Pettway has since worked his way back on the roster after spending a season at a junior college and fulfilled a number of other requirements.
Meanwhile, Alabama’s attempt at becoming the first team to three-peat fell short. A team meeting had to be held after the Crimson Tide struggled to a 31-6 victory against Colorado State, and after the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma some players publicly pointed fingers.
“Last year the leadership was good but toward the end it kind of got divided and only a few people were being heard,” said senior wide receiver Christion Jones, who took exception to some of former quarterback A.J. McCarron’s comments laying blame on the younger players. “The people that needed to speak and be heard weren’t speaking, so everyone kind of separated themselves and pointed the finger at the younger group. But that’s something that you can’t do with the team, because the younger group, you need them just as much as the older guys, because at any point they can be put in. They need to know their things just as much as the older guys.
“That’s our job as leaders to guide the team.”
Jones hopes that Alabama gets back to the way things were in 2011, when the veteran players weren’t just leaders, but almost like coaches themselves. His feeling is that when everything has to stem from the head coach, that’s when problems like the Crimson Tide had last season occur.
“I think we can definitely do a better job leading the team,” wide receiver Amari Cooper said. “Some guys learn from other people’s mistakes, some guys learn from their own mistakes and some guys never learn. Hopefully, they can learn from their own mistakes and we can move forward.”