TUSCALOOSA — Whether it’s the multiple White House visits for his six national championships or the somewhat unexpected sharing of furniture back at Michigan State, Nick Saban has plenty of experience around sitting U.S. presidents.
And his next interaction could be the most talked-about of the bunch.
President Donald Trump is expected to be in attendance for Saturday’s highly-anticipated SEC West showdown between No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Alabama (2:30 p.m. kickoff) inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, and the 68-year-old Crimson Tide coach certainly appreciates his interest in the game.
“Well, it’s an honor, I think, that the President of the United States would be interested enough to come to the game,” Saban said Wednesday morning of Trump’s visit. “I’m sure we’ll do everything we can to welcome him.”
Saban, often considered the president/CEO of Alabama’s football program, has had more than his fair share of presidential interactions throughout his two and a half decade head coaching career.
That includes once allowing the Secret Service to “borrow” Saban’s personal couch from his office when he was head coach at Michigan State during a 1995 visit to the East Lansing campus by then-President Bill Clinton.
“Bill Clinton came to Michigan State to speak at the graduation commencement ceremony and they actually headquartered in our (football) facility building, so I had an opportunity to meet him and talk to him,” Saban recalled Monday. “(At one point), the Secret Service guys came and got my couch and asked if they could take it to his office so he could take a nap and I said, ‘Certainly.’”
Of course, there has been at least one time Saban turned down a presidential invite.
Saban notoriously declined a 2006 dinner opportunity with then-President George W. Bush when he was head coach of the Miami Dolphins in favor of training camp responsibilities.
“It was really a tough decision,” Saban said in 2006, according to the AP. “I feel like my first responsibility is our team. That in no way disrespects the importance of the opportunity, I would have loved to have had to spend dinner with the president.”
It’s unlikely Saban will have that chance with Trump this weekend as the President has tended to make his recent appearances at national sporting events like the World Series or UFC 244 brief ones. Trump was in attendance for the first half of the 2018 College Football Playoff national championship game between Alabama and Georgia, but opted to leave at halftime with the Bulldogs leading 13-0. The Crimson Tide and then-quarterback Tua Tagovailoa famously led a 26-23 comeback in overtime that night.
Saban previously met Trump when Alabama’s 2017 national champion team was honored during a mid-April 2018 visit to the White House. Saban and the Crimson Tide were also honored during four other trips to the White House under the Barack Obama administration in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2016. Saban also visited Washington in 2004 following LSU’s 2003 national championship, though it was reportedly a quick turnaround since the Tigers were in the midst of spring practice that April.
“We’ve been to the White House several times and it’s always a very, very flattering, unique experience,” Saban said. “I think if you’re in Bangkok, Thailand, and you said somebody told somebody you had the opportunity to go to the White House, they’d say, ‘That’s quite an honor.’ So we’ve always looked at that as quite an honor to go to the White House.”
Will Tua play against LSU?
When it comes to the status of injured quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, confidence is riding high around the Alabama athletic complex with each day heading into Saturday’s rivalry game against No. 2 LSU.
Earlier Wednesday, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban told ESPN.com “there’s a good chance (Tagovailoa) will play” before seemingly rehashing his “game-time decision” mantra regarding his quarterback’s playing availability in his regular post-practice press conference.
“Tua’s worked hard to try to get back to where he has an opportunity to play, he’s practiced some, we still don’t know what his status for the game is going to be, we’ll make it when the game comes,” Saban said later Wednesday. “We don’t know what kind of setbacks he’s going to have and (how) he’ll continue to progress. There’s nothing else I can really say about it.”
Tagovailoa underwent a TightRope surgical procedure on his right, non-plant ankle on Oct. 20 to help the healing process for a high ankle sprain suffered in the first half against Tennessee. Should he play Saturday as expected, it would be exactly 20 days post-op, which is almost unheard-of among skill players that have undergone a similar procedure.
Tagovailoa has participated on a somewhat limited basis in Alabama’s last five practices, including being visible during the open media viewing period all three days this week.
“If you watched (Tuesday’s) practice film, you would have a hard time even recognizing that the guy is hurt,” Saban told ESPN. “But we’re not asking him to do everything he would in a game. He’s not scrambling for a first down. He’s not getting chased by a defensive end or any of that stuff, so it’s a little bit controlled. We’ll continue to monitor him and see how he progresses, but we’re pleased with where he is.”
Despite citing Tagovailoa’s range of mobility as a concern with ESPN, Saban made it clear later Wednesday it could ultimately affect whether he plays or not.
“I’m not going to play the guy if he can’t move,” Saban said.
ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who will be in Tuscaloosa earlier Saturday for ESPN’s College GameDay broadcast from the Quad, said he’s heard nothing but positive things about Tagovailoa’s progress this week.
“I think he’s going to be fine,” Herbstreit said Wednesday on a teleconference. “I talked with people down there, unless there’s some kind of set back within the game I expect him to be very capable of being the Tua that we expect.”
Despite missing the Arkansas game two weeks ago, Tagovailoa is still the nation’s second-leading passer with a 74.7 completion percentage (145-of-194) for 2,166 yards and 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions.
Only LSU’s own Heisman Trophy-hopeful, Joe Burrow, has been more accurate, completing 78.8-percent of his passes (205-of-260) for 2,805 yards and 30 touchdowns to four interceptions.
Saban dismisses initial CFP ranking
In case you didn’t know already, Alabama’s head coach has no time for rankings.
The initial College Football Playoff poll of the season was released Tuesday night and the Crimson Tide opened at No. 3 behind top-ranked Ohio State and No. 2 LSU, which comes to Tuscaloosa on Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. showdown at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Not that Saban was paying any attention to it Tuesday.
“Look, I didn’t even look at the college football rankings. I don’t even know what we were ranked,” Saban said Wednesday on the SEC coaches teleconference. “It’s not going to matter if we don’t win the games that we play so we’re more focused on what we’ve got to do to try to be successful against the challenging teams that we have to play.”
Prognosticators cited Alabama’s overall lack of multiple quality wins — it has just one win against a ranked team (Texas A&M) this season — with its No. 3 ranking, which was below both the latest USA Today’s coaches poll (No. 1) and the Associated Press Top-25 poll (No. 2).
“We’ve talked about this before, we’re doing everything we can to try to improve the schedule that we have and we’re going to continue to do that,” Saban added, referring to the seven non-conference Power 5 games the Crimson Tide has scheduled over the next 15 seasons.
5-star signee transfers to Colorado
A month after he “disappeared” from Alabama’s football team, former five-star signee Antonio Alfano found a new home.
The top-rated defensive end from this most recent recruiting class formally announced his commitment to the Buffalos, which is in the first season under former Alabama defensive backs coach Mel Tucker.
“I was honored to be recruited by Alabama and Nick Saban and have nothing but positive things to say about them,” Alfano tweeted from his personal account Tuesday. “I want to be successful today and tomorrow and I believe what Coach Tucker is building at Colorado gives me the best opportunity to do that.”
Alfano entered the transfer portal in mid-October, nearly a month after seemingly leaving the Crimson Tide football program two weeks into the season.
“I just know that the guy basically quit,” Saban said of Alfano on Sept. 18. “He quit going to class, he quit coming here. We tried to encourage him, we tried to help him. We had tried to set up counseling sessions with him to help him every way we could. … You just have to assume the guy quit.”