Author: Tony Barnhart

Those waiting on Saban to slip are going to have a wait a while long

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—He is five weeks removed from his sixth national championship, a week removed from National Signing Day, and a full month away from the start of spring practice. Still, Nick Saban is in a hurry. A big hurry. The visitor to his well-appointed office glances at the coffee table to see the impressive display of Saban’s various championship rings. And yes, there is ample room for another one. That will be coming soon because on Jan. 8, with Alabama trailing 13-0 at halftime, the Crimson Tide reached deep into that reserve that champions seem to have and rallied in overtime to win the CFP national championship game over Georgia, 26-23.  Saban posted his sixth national championship overall and his fifth at Alabama in the past nine seasons. I have been on the field for all six of Saban’s national championships. I told him that the post-game in Atlanta was the most emotional I’d ever seen him. He didn’t disagree. “It (the emotion) was a combination of things,” said Saban. “First it was all the things this team did to overcome all the adversity we had all season long.” Alabama lost four players at the linebacker position in the first game with Florida State and struggled all season long at the position. “Then there was the controversy over whether or not we should be in the game,” said Saban,...

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Five Final Thoughts on SEC Recruiting

Recruiting is over and, as a coach once told me, everybody’s class is filled with players “who all come highly recommended.” But before we turn page and begin to focus on Spring football, please allow your humble correspondent to share some final impressions SEC Recruiting for 2018: 1—You can’t be surprised at what Kirby Smart is doing at Georgia: Last June I was at a social event when a big Georgia fan asked me with a straight face: “Is Kirby going to make it?” Really. That was the question after Smart’s first season at Georgia, when the Bulldogs went a disappointing 8-5. It was a strange season where the Bulldogs could not close out several games (Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech) they should have won. These things happen with first-year head coaches who most of the time don’t know what they don’t know. If you know anything about Kirby Smart’s background you knew he was going to fix that. I assured the questioner that “Kirby is going to be just fine.” Today we can say that Smart is better than just fine after his second team won the SEC championship, won the national CFP semifinals in the Rose Bowl, and then came within one play of winning the national championship.  Then, just one month later Georgia signs the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Smart hired a very good...

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Steve Spurrier will be watching “two of my favorites” in Super Bowl

Steve Spurrier won the ACC championship as the head coach at Duke in 1989. He won six SEC championships and a national championship at Florida. But some of his best work was done in his 11 seasons at South Carolina (2005-2015). In a four-year stretch under Spurrier, the Gamecocks won the SEC East title in 2010 and then put together an unprecedented three straight 11-win seasons (2011-2013). Spurrier  has no doubt about what got that run started in Columbia. It started when Stephon Gilmore, a highly-recruited defensive back out of Rock Hill, S.C., signed with the Gamecocks in 2009. And right after that the Gamecocks got Alshon Jeffery, an incredibly skilled wide receiver from St. Matthews, S.C. “When we got Stephon we really started making progress,” said Spurrier, now the ambassador for the athletics department at Florida. “Then Alshon came. We really started getting some of the national guys. We even beat out Alabama for a couple of them.” Getting Gilmore and Jeffery was the beginning of the best recruiting run in the history of the school. A year later the Gamecocks signed running back Marcus Lattimore and then in 2011 came Jadaveon Clowney. Despite two serious injuries, Lattimore became the school’s all-time leader with 38 rushing touchdowns. Clowney, a defensive lineman,  would become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. But it all began with...

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In wake of Michigan State scandal, five things that must happen now

Where the hell do you start? We thought the lessons were finally learned after the Penn State scandal. They weren’t. Then we thought the lessons were learned once and for all in the Baylor scandal. Guess not. Now we have a mess at Michigan State. This much we know: **–A monster named Larry Nassar will never see the outside of a prison cell after being convicted of the sexual assaulting over 160 women as a team doctor of USA Gymnastics. **–Nassar had been employed as a sports physician at Michigan State since 1997 and some of the assaults took place in the school’s facilities. **–Reporting from ESPN last week charged that Michigan State had improperly handled charges of sexual assault and domestic violence against members of its football and men’s basketball teams. Michigan State athletics director Mark Hollis resigned. The university president, Lou Anna Simon, has also resigned. Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo have said they have no intention of resigning. Ultimately, that may not be their decision to make. An investigation by the state attorney general is ongoing. It all comes back to two recurring issues: **–A lack of transparency in the way SOME schools handle accusations of sexual and physical assault, particularly when the charges are against an athlete. **–The fact that the instinct of big institutions is to protect...

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A Toast to Keith Jackson–THE VOICE

Keith Jackson grew up in the tiny (population 210) rural community of Roopville, Ga. One day a neighbor dropped by his home and said that the young Jackson was out in the cornfield talking to himself. He wasn’t talking to himself. Jackson was calling the college football games that were being played over and over in his head. He had dreams, even then, of being a voice in college football. Well, Keith Jackson didn’t become a voice of college football. He became THE VOICE of the game he so loved. And in the process he made us love it just as much. The word came Saturday morning that Jackson, 89, had passed away in Southern California, his long-time home and a long, long way from Roopville, Ga. Jackson, who retired after calling the win by Texas over USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl, had no peer when it came to using that splendid, unmistakable voice, to make us understand what we were watching. Jackson, as the great ones do, was there, to facilitate our enjoyment of the game. He believed, as I heard him say once, his job was to “educate, illuminate and then get the hell out of the way.” He believed strongly that silence was a great thing, especially at an exciting end to a great game. He retired once, in 1998, after calling the Tennessee-Florida State...

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