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Wormsby: Nick Saban and the handling of QBs Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa

Hollis Wormsby, Jr
By Hollis Wormsby, Jr.

To a lot of people that follow Alabama football, the offseason was all about whether or not the black quarterback would retain his position as the starter this fall.  In that respect, the media poked around seeking quotes and opinions from every conceivable source and the Alabama fan base spoke of their preference in the comment sections of every major article.

It was obvious if you listened to the chatter that almost everyone was in a rush to anoint Tua as the second coming of Joe Namath and Ken Stabler combined, and that many had no patience for those who felt that Jalen Hurts at least deserved consideration for the 26-2 record and two national championship games he had led the Tide to.

But this is Alabama, where every year starts out with the hope for an undefeated season and the next national championship, and a place where the what have you done for me lately mantra is clearly and loudly heard.  Everyone from respected commentators to the die-hard fan base gleefully awaited the anointing of Tua and the abandonment of Jalen.  When Averion Hurts, Jalen’s father made a comment this spring about Jalen being the best free agent quarterback to be made available if he did not retain his starting job, that was just about the last blow for the Bama faithful.  How dare his dad imply that he could give Alabama an ultimatum.  The hate directed towards this man on the comment boards was off the chain.  When all the man did was say that he was a father who was going to make sure that his son’s best interests were preserved.

The one person who consistently refused to be dragged into the hype, was Alabama Head Coach, Nick Saban.  Even though the man has won five national championships in nine years and has had Alabama in the top 10 since his second year, there were some in the fan base who dared even to question the potential greatest of all time coach over his decision to show courtesy and compassion to a young man who had consistently put it all on the line for the program.

While I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that Tua is as good as advertised and an obvious better choice for the number one quarterback at the number one program in College Football, I have also gained new respect for Coach Saban and the care and concern he shows for his players as this process has unfolded.

Indications are that Saban has had practice reps split almost equally between Tua and Jalen throughout training camp and even into the season.   Even as there was speculation that Jalen would make sure not to play in more than four games this season so as not to burn a year of eligibility, Saban has gotten him quality playing time in each of the four games and there is no indication that this is going to change significantly.

But the thing I really admire Nick Saban for as I observe this situation from afar, is the improvement I have seen in Jalen as a quarterback during this period of time.  The rap on Jalen had been that he was only a running quarterback and that he was poor at reading defenses.  The truth of this was reflected in the poor passing numbers Alabama put up even in wins during the regular season.  In the Auburn game and the Georgia game last year, both team defenses stacked the box and dared Jalen to beat them with his arm and he simply could not.  But when you have watched Jalen in back up action this year you see remarkable improvement in his ability to throw the deep ball and in making his reads quicker.  Did he improve to the point where he is a better choice than Tua, unfortunately for those of us who were pulling for him, he did not.  But he is a much better passer, who continues to improve with the coaching he is receiving and that will put him in a much better position to compete for the starting quarterback job, if he does in fact go the graduate transfer route after this season.  I have gained much greater respect for Nick Saban for the way he has handled the Jalen Hurts situation.  He has done so with a courtesy and compassion that is often missing in this what have you done for me lately culture we live in today.  Or at least that is the way I see it.

(Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 29 years.  He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM.  If you would like to comment on this column you can email him at hjwormsby@aol.com).