There’s been a quiet saga unfolding over the past couple of weeks surrounding Alabama nickel back Maurice Smith. It’s quiet no longer.
Smith, a former four star recruit from Sugar Land, Texas, was the starter at the nickel this spring for Nick Saban’s defending national champions. However, in mid-June he informed the school that he was interested in transferring. Smith will graduate this weekend from Alabama, and was hoping to be eligible immediately as a graduate transfer. Georgia joined Miami, Louisville, Houston, Maryland and USC among schools looking to land the rising senior. Reports had previously surfaced that Saban would not allow Smith to transfer to another SEC school (like Georgia), and cited the league’s own transfer policy as part of his justification. The SEC’s rule on such things does not in fact prohibit transfers from one SEC school to another. It merely states that a player must meet a one year "residency requirement" before being eligible to play. So it appears that Saban is citing a rule that doesn’t exist.
He simply doesn’t want a guy he’s already written into the 2016 game plan to waltz over to Athens to play for his former defensive coordinator (Kirby Smart) and former position coach (Mel Tucker). But new details in a letter obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution appear to illustrate just how invested Saban may have been in keeping Smith in Tuscaloosa, or punishing him for leaving. Smith’s mother provided the letter which her son sent to the University of Alabama committee charged with hearing his appeal of the school’s decision not to grant him a waiver to transfer to Georgia, his first choice school. In it, Smith alleges that after expressing a desire to contact other schools he was barred from working out or eating in Alabama athletic facilities even though he was still technically a member of the team. He also contends that within 24 hours of telling Saban that he wanted to transfer personal belongings from his locker were thrown in the trash (the letter references a picture, which is not included in the AJC story).
It’s not surprising that the notoriously demanding Saban would have an "all in or all out" policy with regard to his players. It’s also not surprising that Saban might tell an equipment manager "If Smith wants to transfer, clean his $@!# out."
But be that as it may, this is a bad look for Alabama. Contrary to common perception, Saban has carefully groomed a persona in Tuscaloosa. He has no problem with appearing prickly as hell in public, but wants it known that he cares deeply for his players. If you follow recruiting, you’ve no doubt heard recruits’ parents talk about Saban earnestly proclaiming that he will take care of their sons as if they were his own. But this makes the reality in Tuscaloosa sound a lot more like the cold, cut-throat football factory rival fans make it out to be.
For his part, Saban would undoubtedly contend this is just a disgruntled former player trying to burn the house down on his way out the door. And admittedly there is a element of trial by public opinion playing out here. The Smiths are airing some dirty laundry that they didn't necessarily have to disseminate. But be that as it may, this looks a lot like the thing Saban hates more than anything else, the dreaded "D word": distraction. Until later...