From the Sidelines: Johns deals blow…to program

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 28, 2008

Jimmy Johns&8217; arrest, aside from dominating local sports talk and making national news this week, also serves as the latest event in a long line of shameful occurrences that have diminished the once proud reputation of the Capstone. The negative press Johns&8217; transgressions has drawn is less of a testament to his importance as a player or even Alabama&8217;s relevancy as a program. Rather, it is the byproduct of national media figures that have long salivated for any and every opportunity to rake Nick Saban over the coals, to challenge his ability as a coach in the same way they have scrutinized his integrity for years.

Granted, Saban has unquestionably given them adequate fodder in both areas with his say-one-thing-do-another departure from the NFL, his lack of response in the wake of previous scandals and his suspension of former wide receiver D.J. Hall that proved to be contingent upon the head coach&8217;s need for the target to help prevent an embarrassing loss to a Sun Belt team not named Troy. Inarguably, Saban&8217;s performance in each instance fell far short of the $4 million salary he pulls each year.

However, inasmuch as the media has sought to ridicule Saban, in the name of unbiased integrity, it should take the same opportunities to commend him. Saban&8217;s actions with Johns were swift.

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Of course the argument can be made that Johns should have been gone long ago and Saban&8217;s previously inept disciplinary measures could very well have lent themselves to an environment where such immoral and illegal activities could take place.

The case can also be made that Saban had no choice in the ramifications he dished out to Johns considering the former Mississippi Mr. Football would soon be ousted from campus.

But, to speak to the former argument first, as far as anyone knows at this time, the Johns incident was an isolated one. With the exception of the customary collegiate unruliness, the Crimson Tide had made great strides toward cleaning up its image as a program. There had been no major incidents involving current players since the Simeon Castille debacle. Therefore, it stands to reason that something the coach was doing had to be proving effective.

As for the second point, Saban truly had little choice but to eradicate all trace of Jimmy Johns from Alabama football. But his actions cannot be accurately measured or evaluated until the next incident.

How Saban responded to the Johns situation will be contextualized and validated based on how swiftly and to what extreme he handles the next Alabama player who goes out of his way to disgrace the uniform he is privileged to wear.

Should Saban revert to the slap-on-the-wrist punishment of the pre-Coke Gate days, it will totally undermine his authority as a head coach and his integrity as a mentor to young men. It will also likely lend to the chaotic environment many media members would like to have everyone believe is already in place in Tuscaloosa.

But, if Saban uses this event as a catalyst for change, as the proverbial rock-bottom incident that truly turns the program in the right direction, then will have finally become the leader Alabama football has long sought, restoring stability to a program that desperately needs it.

And, if he does so, there are certain prominent media members who will be called to recognize it in order to prevent themselves from becoming the very things of which they have long accused Saban.

Jeremy D. Smith is the sports editor of The Times. You can reach him at 334-289-4017.

Jeremy D. Smith is sports editor for The Times. Reach him at (334) 289-4017.