Former Alabama QBs critical of Nick Saban’s way of doing things
Nick Saban is known for being one of the toughest college football coaches to play for, yet top recruits line up every year for a chance to learn under him. Two of those recruits, former Crimson Tide quarterbacks Blake Barnett and Cooper Bateman, sound as though they wish they hadn’t.
Barnett, who is now competing for a starting job at Arizona State, and Batemen, who walked on at Utah after leaving Alabama, both say they were shocked when true freshman Jalen Hurts played most of the game in the Tide’s 52-6 win over USC to kick off the 2016 season. Barnett says Saban told him Hurts would play in some zone-read packages, but ultimately he thought the job was his.
“According to him, I was their guy,” he told Kyle Bonagura of ESPN.com. “Once Jalen went in, I was expecting it. But then he went out on the next series, the next series and the next series. I don’t know if everything was communicated correctly.”
Bateman was led to believe he was going to split time with Barnett, who was the No. 1 QB recruit in the class of 2015. Instead, Saban put both quarterbacks in the game for mop-up duty after Hurts led Alabama to a 38-3 lead.
“How things were communicated, there was a lack of communication,” Bateman said. “I knew I didn’t want to be involved with that anymore, but fortunately that was the first game of the season — 12, 13 more to go. I put my head down and battled through it. I knew after that first game that I didn’t really want to be a part of it anymore.”
Barnett initially planned to finish the season at Alabama before transferring, assuming he would have two years of eligibility remaining. However, he learned that there was a rule stating he could become eligible again one calendar year after withdrawing from classes, so he decided to leave Alabama after the first month of the regular season.
The decision clearly upset Saban, who later gave a lecture on his radio show about “not quitting and seeing things through.” Barnett did not appreciate the way Saban bashed him publicly.
“Obviously, I didn’t expect them to be happy in any way. Them being upset and holding a grudge — that was expected to me,” he said. “The only thing I took offense to is that Saban goes out to media and tried to diminish my reputation for a decision I made that was best for my career individually. It was kind offensive that he would go out and bash a 20-year-old.”
More recently, Saban said at SEC Media Days last month that he has a level of “understanding” for why Barnett wanted to pursue other opportunities.
Hurts, of course, was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year after leading the Tide to the National Championship Game. You can’t argue with Saban deciding to stick with the freshman, but Barnett and Bateman obviously wish the coach had handled it differently.
It’s no secret that Saban creates a demanding environment, and we were reminded of that with what one NFL rookie said about training camp this year. Most players respect it, and Barnett and Batemen were both quick to point out that they have great respect for Saban as a coach. But you can’t impress NFL scouts by sitting on the sideline, and the Alabama job is now Hurts’ to lose.