BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — For the most part, Alabama coach Nick Saban stuck to his original statement when talking about starting left tackle Cam Robinson and reserve defensive back Laurence “Hootie” Jones, who were both arrested early Tuesday morning in Louisiana on drug and weapon charges.
But with each interview and radio appearance, Saban has provided an extra tidbit or two advancing the story.
Following his 18 holes at the Regions Tradition golf tournament, Saban sat down with ESPN’s Paul Finebaum for a quick interview, and the conversation naturally centered around Robinson and Jones’ recent off-the-field troubles.
“Same thing I’ve been saying to everybody. We’re gathering information about it,” Saban told Finebaum when asked for an update on the situation. “When we get the facts, we’ll determine whether there is something we need to do internally or not. But Cam Robinson has been a really good player for us, he’s been a really good person for us, he’s never been in trouble before so all of those things are things that need to be taken into consideration. It’s certainly not the kind of behavior that we’d like for any of our players to ever represent the university or themselves or their families with. Certainly there are lessons to be learned here.”
Robinson has started all 29 games at left tackle since he’s been on campus. Heading into his junior season, Robinson was projected in early mock drafts to be a first-round NFL draft pick if he decided to leave school. He has played through ankle and shoulder injuries throughout his career, but he missed spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery.
“Well, we didn’t have him all spring and we still had a team,” Saban said when asked how Alabama would manage without him. “I mean, we’ve got other players that can play. But Cam’s been a really good player for us. Hopefully we’ll be able to work through this in some kind of way. He’ll learn from it, we’ll learn from it and we can do something to help him have a successful future.”
From a legal standpoint surrounding Jones and Robinson, Saban said he “talked to the attorneys yesterday,” but added that he doesn’t know much and that he “can’t really discuss it so we just have to wait and see.”
Throughout his career and during his time at Alabama, Saban has been a strong believer in giving players second chances.
Saban allowed D.J. Pettway to rejoin the team after he was kicked off. Pettway’s return was a positive one as he earned his degree, and became a contributor to the team.
But Saban took in defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor following his domestic violence charge and other issues at Georgia. That decision ultimately backfired as Taylor was kicked off the team just five practices into his Alabama career following another domestic violence arrest. The charges were later dropped.
Even then, Saban said he wasn’t sorry for giving Taylor the opportunity, but was sorry for how things worked out. Saban explained his reasoning on giving trouble players second chances.
“People basically think that discipline is punishment,” Saban said. “Discipline is actually any kind of punishment that’s going to change somebody’s behavior. I think what everybody has to ask is — just like you would with your own children — is the guy better off with us with the structure and the direction he’s going to get and the opportunities that he can take advantage of and be somebody that other people can emulate with his leadership, or are we better off throwing him out with the bath water? I don’t feel like that’s always the right thing to do unless it’s really warranted.”
Finebaum pushed Saban a bit, asking the head coach if he’d “rather be wrong giving someone a second chance rather than not knowing that you could possibly help someone?”
“I think that’s what our whole country is all about. Don’t we try to give people opportunities?” Saban said. “They obviously have a responsibility to represent and do things a certain way, and we’re going to make people accountable to do that and certainly continue to try to teach them to do that, but at the same time, I don’t think that discipline is always punishment. And punitive action to do what? Make all the people think, ‘Wow, Nick Saban’s a tough guy. He kicked this guy off the team.’ I’m not sure that’s the best way to manage this. We’re going to do what’s best for the player and our program and our team.”
Even beyond this particular situation, Finebaum asked Saban if he felt all of the education programs give to players about how to conduct themselves works or gets through. Alabama brings in multiple guest speakers every year in hopes of educating the players on managing money, avoiding drugs and anything else that could potential derail their careers or affect their personal lives.
“I do think that because of the personal development programs that we’ve implemented and the structure that we’ve implemented academically — which I know we’ve got the highest graduation in the SEC so that’s worked,” Saban said. “But I also think we’ve had less problems with players because we’re trying to help players develop the right thoughts, habits and priorities. One thing I always tell players — there are three bad things: Nothing good happens after midnight, nothing good happens when you’re around guns unless you’re going hunting and you don’t want to mess around with women you don’t know because a lot of times bad things happen. In this case, a couple of those thing were violated. I think it’s going to be a learning experience for everybody on our team.”