Mark Wiedmer: If Saban's Calling Out Oats, He Has A Point

  • Thursday, March 23, 2023
  • Mark Wiedmer

An unfortunate verbal shot at a fellow athletic department employee? A much needed voice of discipline and wisdom? Both?

Maybe University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban didn’t mean to criticize Crimson Tide basketball coach Nate Oats’ handling of star player Brandon Miller’s role in the January murder of 23-year-old Jamea Harris, but it sure sounds that way.

Thanks to Bama defensive back Tony Mitchell driving 141 mph last week as he attempted to flee police 50 miles north of Panama City, Florida, Saban addressed the media a few days ago about the situation. To make the issue worse, Mitchell, a former four-star recruit, wasn’t merely driving as if he was competing for a pole position at Talladega.

He and a passenger in Mitchell’s black Dodge Challenger were also in possession of 226 grams of marijuana, just under 8 ounces, more than $7,000 in cash and a loaded 9mm Springfield.

To say both men are potentially in a heap of trouble is like saying Saban’s a pretty good football coach.

But it was what that way-more-than-pretty- good football coach said after announcing Mitchell was suspended from the team “until we gather more information about the situation and what his legal circumstance is” that surely has more than a few tongues wagging both in and out of the Alabama athletic department.

"Everybody's got an opportunity to make choices and decisions," Saban said. "There's no such thing as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You've got to be responsible for who you're with, who you're around and what you do, who you associate yourself with and the situations that you put yourself in.

"It is what it is, but there is cause and effect when you make choices and decisions that put you in bad situations."

Good points all, points that every person on the planet, but especially impressionable teenagers and young adults would be wise to heed.

Yet to reread the portion of Saban’s statement that begins with “There’s no such thing as being in the wrong place at the wrong time” is to also wonder if there was a double purpose for his choice of words.

After all, a little more than a month ago, on Feb. 21, Oats decided to address Miller’s involvement in the Harris murder. It had not been public knowledge until that week. But with a grand jury about to hear evidence in the case that directly linked dismissed Bama player Darius Miles and his childhood friend Michael Lynn Davis to the murder, news leaked that Miller had brought the gun to Miles just before the shooting. To be clear, the gun belonged to Miles. However, it had been in the backseat of Miller’s car earlier that evening. As Saturday night rolled into Sunday, Jan. 15, Miles asked for Miller to bring him his gun and Miller complied.

More than a month after the murder that part of the story was going to become public and Oats felt the need to comment on it.

His words, somewhat walked back in a second statement later that evening, initially read as follows: “Can’t control everything anybody does outside of practice. Nobody knew that was going to happen. College kids are out, Brandon hasn’t been in any type of trouble nor is he in any type of trouble in this case. Wrong spot at the wrong time.”

Wrong spot at wrong time.

It seemed tone-deaf at best. Callous and unfeeling at worst. And at no time did Oats sense the need to suspend Miller for so much as a single game for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, as well as bringing a gun to a future ex-teammate no more than five minutes before that gun was used to murder a 23-year-old mother who had the audacity not to want to hang out with an Alabama basketball player and his friends.

So Saban said what he said this week. And people can think what they think about whether or not it was directed at Oats.

It’s also fair to note that whatever means Saban uses to discipline his players, it doesn’t always carry over to their professional careers. Former Tider Henry Ruggs has been charged with killing a woman thanks to a wreck he caused while driving intoxicated at an estimated speed in excess of 150 miles an hour in Las Vegas, where he was a member of the NFL’s Raiders.

Then there’s Calvin Ridley, who was suspended for a year by the NFL for betting on league games while he was a member of the Atlanta Falcons. That year is now over and Ridley has moved on to Jacksonville, but several former Tiders have run afoul of the law since leaving the Capstone.

That’s life. No one’s perfect. But Jamea Harris’s life is over not so much because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time but because a number of college athletes were of the wrong mind.

And whatever reason Saban had for saying what he said, the entirety of what he said needs to be memorized and practiced by everyone, especially young people, everywhere all the time.

* * *

To contact Mark Wiedmer, email news@chattanoogan.com


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