It’s obvious Nick Saban respects Hugh Freeze more than Butch Jones.
Of course, the chance of Alabama’s coach saying this behind a microphone are as slim as him texting an emoji to Lane Kiffin. Don’t count on Saban dissing his new offensive “intern” by comparing Freeze and Jones in such a pointed way. Saban would have nothing to gain by doing so.
But the message is as clear as the Waterford crystal found in Tuscaloosa after reading the report published Monday by AL.com’s John Talty and Matt Zenitz: Saban considers Freeze a superior coach when compared to the former Tennessee leader.
Saban reportedly wanted to give Freeze a high-profile role at Alabama, to make him a co-offensive coordinator and a position coach. But SEC commissioner Greg Sankey expressed that he wasn’t a fan of seeing Freeze hold a job in the SEC so soon after Freeze parted ways with Ole Miss last July following scandalous details that were made public.
Serving as a co-offensive coordinator and position coach is a far cry from intern, er analyst, status.
Look, this nugget shouldn’t cause anyone to collapse from surprise. Freeze beat Saban twice during the former Ole Miss coach’s time in Oxford, in 2014 and 2015. The Rebels almost toppled Alabama for a third consecutive season in 2016, but the Crimson Tide scraped by in a 48-43 thriller.
Jones, meanwhile, was a punching bag by comparison. Tennessee went 0-5 against Alabama with Jones on the Vols sideline. Yes, there was a narrow 19-14 loss for Tennessee in 2015, but the Volunteers never kept it closer than 14 points in each of the other Crimson Tide romps.
For Saban, Freeze was a true foil.
Jones was as much of a threat to Alabama as tin foil is to a charging bull.
Still, this situation leaves unanswered questions. Alabama fans should ask themselves why Sankey suggested that Saban not hire Freeze. Why should a commissioner influence personnel decisions at individual schools? Why was this nudge-nudge-wink-wink stuff necessary?
If Saban were willing to risk possible negative backlash by hiring the former Ole Miss coach then Saban should have been allowed to deal with those consequences. That’s part of his job.
It seems bizarre that Sankey inserted his opinion in this manner. From a pure football standpoint, Freeze’s addition would have been a positive development for Alabama. Clearly, Saban respected Freeze’s offensive prowess during those entertaining matchups between the Rebels and Crimson Tide. The SEC is worse off for Ole Miss’ declined status, even if Freeze is the reason for the Rebels’ recent troubles.
It’s a shame that we won’t be allowed to see how Freeze would have worked with Saban and Alabama in a high-profile position. Can you imagine the possibilities? Can you picture how cool that might have been?
It’s hard not to view this knowledge as anything other than a victory for other SEC programs hoping to topple the Crimson Tide. Coaches at Georgia and Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M should be pleased that Freeze remains far from Alabama’s staff.
Yes, Jones can offer the Crimson Tide plenty. But he’s no Freeze.
Saban was smart to recognize the difference.