Much ado, but nothing much new learned from Saban about 2016 Tide

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Nick Saban signs autographs for fans who mug him in lobby at SEC Media Days

HOOVER – Shakespeare, who may well have interviewed Steve Spurrier and shared witticisms with him at one of the early SEC Media Days, penned a play entitled “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Which could nicely sum Alabama’s obligatory at the media days on Wednesday.

Sure, there are the inevitable sidebars that follow a Nick Saban sighting, the way fluorescent plankton magically appear in a ship’s wake.

There was the heated on-air (and it continued off-air, reports say) debate between Saban and Paul Finebaum, with the latter believing Saban didn’t adequately punish Cam Robinson and Hootie Jones.

WHNT News 19's new sports commentary segment, Upon Further Review, features Mark McCarter's unique wit and humor.

WHNT News 19’s new sports commentary segment, Upon Further Review, features Mark McCarter’s unique wit and humor.

They were arrested on misdemeanor charges of possession of a controlled substance and illegally carrying a weapon. Robinson also faced felony charges for possession of a stolen gun. But when charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence, well, what’s a coach to do?

Saban certainly doesn’t need the legal system to justify any decision, and as a coach who sets the standards for his sport, he missed the opportunity to deliver a more powerful message.

There has been the considerable discussion of the Nick Saban Coaching Tree. Three of his former acolytes are now Southeastern Conference head coaches. Coincidence or not, they’re all in the SEC East.

Will Muschamp got a mulligan after his Florida struggles and was hired as the new coach at South Carolina. Jim McElwain is in his second year as Florida’s head coach – having faced Saban & Co. in the SEC Championship Game last December – and Kirby Smart is in his first year at Georgia.

When you add Michigan State’s Mark D’Antonio and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher as other ex-Saban aides, there’s a lot of Saban DNA floating around out there. For better or worse, if you carry a press pass in your wallet, I guess.

“We’re always very happy and pleased … to see guys who have done a fantastic job for us for a long, long time in some cases get the opportunity or have the opportunity come to fruition that they’ve worked hard to try to achieve in their own personal career,” Saban said.

For anything enlightening on Alabama 2016, though, I’ve got a notebook full of empty.

That’s almost universal for SEC Media Days, which happen so early, where any personnel issues are unchanged since spring and where many coaches are arriving almost straight from vacation.

Give Saban much credit for his candor:

“If the truth really be known, anything that I’m going to say about our team … you know who’s coming back, you know who graduated. You already have what the issues are relative to the challenges that we have to solve for our team.

“So, I’m going to sit up here and very seriously talk about our team, and everything I’m going to say about our team, you’ve already written about … Somebody in this room has already written a story about what I’m going to talk about. But you’re going to be serious and I’m going to be serious about talking about it again. That’s the way we do things.”

We have this: Alabama has serious concerns at quarterback. But it’s a sequel. Alabama Quarterback Quandary III.

“For the third year in a row, I’m standing up here talking about somebody’s going to be a new quarterback for us,” Saban said. “Somebody’s got to win that job. Somebody’s got to win the team.”

There is experience on the offensive line and whoever emerges at QB will find the best Alabama receiving corps in a while.

The most serious concern might be that for “the first time for many, many years (Alabama doesn’t have) an experienced, talented running back who has proven his value.”

Defense is traditionally a strong suit, and six starters are back. But as Saban pointed out, there was a versatility in last year’s defense, with the luxury of its depth that enabled the Tide to be equally effective against hurry-up passing attacks or more plodding running attacks.

“It was almost perfect,” Saban said of a defense in a season that was almost perfect.

Now, that’s not as headline-grabbing as a quarterback controversy, but defensive versatility and depth may be what determines Alabama’s fate in 2016.

But you already knew that.

Inevitably, there was much ado with Saban in the building. But much nothing when it came to fresh insight.

Long-time sportswriter Mark McCarter is a special contributor for WHNT News 19. Follow his coverage of the SEC Media Days on WHNT.com and in nightly reports on WHNT News 19 this week.

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