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I still attend a Nick Saban press conference from time to time. My coverage of college football has branched out beyond the University of Alabama, but he is still the most recognizable head coach of the most recognizable program in the country.
His press conference on Monday is one I wish I hadn’t missed. Apparently, it kicked up quite a bit on controversy. Not because of anything Saban said, but because of a newer member of the media addressing him as such.
This is how she phrased her question: “Hi Saban, how do you think your defense will hold up against quarterback Ian Book?”
Pretty generic question, but it gives the head coach for the Crimson Tide plenty of wiggle room to expand. The defense has struggled at times this season, including in its most recent game against Florida in the SEC championship. Overall, it’s a solid pitch for a flexible at bat.
But the question wasn’t the issue, apparently. It was how the journalist addressed the Alabama legend. She didn’t refer to him as Coach Saban, Coach or even Nick. She addressed him by his last name only. You can check out that audio for yourself below.
Here’s the “Hi, Saban” question from the press conference.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this was just nerves from just asking coach a question. pic.twitter.com/UILCbEUiQD
— Antonio MacBeath (@TonyMacUMP) December 28, 2020
When I first heard it, I’ll be honest … I perked up. I’ve heard Saban directly addressed by the three names above, but I’ve rarely heard him directly addressed as just Saban. And see, there’s a difference here.
Putting the name “Saban” in an article, title or even addressing him as such when talking about him isn’t all that rare. It is rare, however, to hear someone talking to him address him by just his last name. It was different, and different stands out.
That doesn’t mean she was in the wrong, however.
Personally, I will always address him as Coach Saban or Nick Saban — or at least I try to. Even when I’m talking about him, I always strive to use one of those two terms. I’m not perfect at it by any means, but I’m wary of it.
Why, you might ask? Well, when I got into this business five years ago, my dad told me a story about the late Paul “Bear” Bryant and how people spoke to him back in the day. There were plenty who just called him “The Bear.” But many — I would even say most — referred to him as Coach Bryant, and they certainly addressed him directly as such.
My dad just wanted me to be aware of that. It’s not that calling him Saban or even Nick would be a bad thing necessarily, but he felt going the extra mile to show respect would help me in this business.
It’s the same concept as saying “Yes, ma’am,” “No, ma’am,” “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.” It’s something you don’t see much anymore, but when you do, it stands out. In this business, you want to stand out — as long as it’s in a good way.
So, when I heard this journalist address the six-time national championship-winning head coach as Saban, I noticed. But I’ll continue to reiterate that this isn’t a knock on her at all. I’m speaking from my own personal experience, and no one should be forced to share that approach or that opinion.
This is where I believe TV sports anchor Rick Karle got it wrong. He made a couple of reasonable points during his Monday Facebook rant that has since gone viral, but boy, did he sure take the wrong approach in his delivery. If you’re unfamiliar with his words on the topic, let’s get you up to speed.
Here is a snippet from the Facebook post from WVTM’s Rick Karle:
You see, I have a problem with reporters calling Coach Saban “Nick” when asking the coach a question.
I have heard this since the coach arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007.
Questions like, “Nick, can you tell me about the progression of your quarterback?”
Or, “Nick, what have you learned about your team this year?”
Today I even heard a young reporter get on the call and start her question with, “Hi, Saban!” (yes, it could have been nerves- understand if it was).
I’ve come up with a proposal for all of us media people to follow as we move into a new year.
How about simply calling the head football coach at the University Of Alabama, “Coach Saban?”
I think the man has earned that much respect.
Oh, I get it.
Some reporters call the coach “Nick” in hopes that the coach perceives himself and the reporter on equal footing.
The problem? The footing is not equal.
Nick Saban is Nick Saban.
We are not.
You can read that entire post here, if you’re interested in getting the full message and context.
There’s a right way to handle things and a wrong way. This, my friends, is the wrong way. Taking this “holier than thou” approach is going to turn people off immediately and limit the impact you were hoping for.
In today’s society, we do this a lot. It’s this “let me tell you why you’re an awful human being” mentality that doesn’t encourage change. In fact, it sends people running in the opposite direction in most cases.
It’s like I said earlier, I agree with Karle in some ways. From what I know about him, he seems like a good guy, and I’m sure his heart was in the right place. It didn’t land like he had probably hoped, though.
If I’m speaking of or writing about Saban — or Kirby or Dabo — then I tend to go with a last name or a nickname. If I’m addressing one of them directly, however, I will always use Coach, Coach Saban, Coach Smart or Coach Swinney. Period.
But that’s me, it doesn’t have to be you. That’s your business. I’m also not going to virtue signal to others over not using “Yes, ma’am,” “No, sir” or anything in between. Does it grab my attention when I hear someone use it? Sure. Are you a terrible human being if you don’t? Absolutely not.
We also need to keep things in context. The person who asked the initial question, according to others, is an up-and-coming journalist. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the opportunity to ask Nick Saban a question, but I will never forget my first time.
I can remember being “cute” with family and friends leading up to my first ever SEC Media Days a few years ago. I joked that I would ask Saban a tough, hard-hitting question. I didn’t understand why others were so intimidated by the Alabama head coach.
It didn’t take long for me to learn, though.
Saban has a presence about him, and it’s understandable to see others have nerves when asking a question — especially when someone is new to it. Needless to say, all my tough guy talk quickly dissipated, and I didn’t ask him a single question that first go-around.
The reporter who asked the question on Monday was probably nervous. Did that impact the way she addressed Saban? Who knows. That’s much further down the speculation hole than I’m willing to go, but it could have — and that’s the point. We don’t know.
Karle’s response has garnered the attention of many on social media. It’s actually kind of strange how Facebook and Twitter have addressed it. On Facebook, many have been in support of Karle’s response, even cheering him on. On Twitter, many have had the opposite reaction.
That’s the world we live in nowadays, I suppose. There is one thing I am almost certain of, however.
Nick Saban, Coach Saban, Saban or however you want to address him .. yeah, he probably doesn’t care how you do it. And even if he did, trying to prepare for a College Football Playoff game in the middle of a pandemic is probably higher on his priority list.
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.