HOOVER, Ala. – This question was posed by a reporter on Wednesday: Who’s the bigger “rock star” in the SEC, Alabama coach Nick Saban or Florida quarterback Tim Tebow?
Both were center stage Thursday at SEC Media Days at The Wynfrey Hotel, but the question was not definitively answered. Each attracted hordes of fans and admirers upon arrival, and each held court with the media longer than scheduled.
Not a bad thing, according to Saban.
“My daddy always says, ‘You only have a problem if no one’s asking for your autograph,’ ” Saban said. “When there’s not a stir downstairs, I’ve got a problem.”
Saban led Alabama to a perfect regular season record last year but lost to Tebow’s Gators in the SEC title game, and then to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. Despite the tough finish, it’s clear that Bama is back.
And in the offseason, Saban tried out his acting chops in “The Blind Side,” a movie documenting the life and career of former Ole Miss offensive lineman Michael Oher.
Saban recruited Oher when he was LSU’s coach.
Two days after filming his scene, Saban waved the green flag at Talladega Superspeedway.
“Those two experiences were sort of out-of body for me,” he said.
As for Tebow, he went on to lead Florida to a second BCS championship in three years, and the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner decided to return for his senior season.
Tebow is admired by friends and foes alike. In the lobby of The Wynfrey, a little girl held a sign that read, “Tebow is my hero.”
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said he has on his desk a copy of “The Speech,” which Tebow delivered following the Rebels’ 31-30 win over Florida last year, and which has been etched on a plaque and displayed outside the Gators’ practice facility.
“I read it to my team once,” Nutt said.
Florida hasn’t lost since that Sept. 27 setback.
When the preseason writers’ predictions are announced today, Florida will likely be picked to repeat as SEC Eastern Division and overall champ. And Tebow is expected to be a unanimous first-team selection for the preseason All-SEC team.
He was not a unanimous choice on the coaches’ team, which was announced last week. One coach voted for Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead (not Nutt, because coaches can’t vote for their own players).
So far, every coach in Hoover has affirmed or implied that he voted for Tebow.
“Maybe there was a mistake in the calculation,” Georgia coach Mark Richt joked.
Saban sounds off
Saban said he voted for Tebow. But, “I also think that everybody should have the right to vote for whoever they want, and I don’t think they should be criticized for that. It’s what a lot of people have fought for in this country for a long time.
“So I don’t understand why anybody would even be interested.”
Invoking past military conflicts while discussing All-SEC voting might seem odd, but Saban takes a general’s approach to football. Maybe that doesn’t fit the “rock star” mold, but it obviously works, and winning at Alabama is all it takes to be a football god.
But can Saban take Alabama back to Atlanta, and perhaps to Pasadena, site of this season’s BCS title game? If the Crimson Tide can get past Tebow and Florida, maybe so.
Whether they meet again – and it would have to be in the SEC title game, because they don’t play each other during the regular season – Saban and Tebow will continue to dominate the SEC landscape.
That spotlight doesn’t bother Tebow.
“Sometimes it all can be overwhelming, but I’ll deal with it every time if I can walk into a room, make a kid smile, and make a difference in his life,” he said. “All the attention is definitely worth it.”
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal