By now, unless you live under a rock, you're aware that Nick Saban went scorched-earth on Texas A&M and its head coach Jimbo Fisher for alleged wrongdoings in regard to the use (or misuse) of name-image-likeness (NIL) rules on the way to filling out its most recent recruiting class. The question is why.
Nick Saban rarely does anything that isn't calculated and thought-through. It's for that reason that his one “moment of weakness,” if you want to call it that, was when he mishandled his exit from the Miami Dolphins following the 2006 NFL season on his way to return to college football. Painted into a corner by the Miami press, Saban overcommitted himself to the Dolphins in his statements, and paid a heavy price for it when he ultimately chose to take the Alabama job.
For all the media buzz about Texas A&M signing a “generational” class on National Early Signing Day, the end result was that Alabama fell from its typical spot atop NCAA recruiting class rankings all the way to … second place.
And even that result is contingent on Alabama possibly adding WR Kendrick Law or DE Omari Abor at a later date. If Alabama gets to count CB Eli Ricks, who it got out of the transfer portal from LSU, then go ahead and flip the rankings.
At the end of the day, Texas A&M did hold a lead in the TideFans.com / NARCAS 2021-2022 recruiting rankings – classes won't be officially ranked until after the traditional February signing period – with Alabama just behind. Georgia was a clear No. 3, and then as many as 15 other teams were in the mix to fill out the remainder of the top 10.
Alabama's 18th national championship is in the books, and with it, the depletion of talent across the Tide's depth chart. While Alabama certainly brings in more elite talent than most other schools, it also loses more, primarily to the NFL Draft but also to the NCAA transfer portal.
I only wish I had been able to tell Cecil this when he was still alive. It is often said that one shouldn't meet their heroes, because the heroes don't always live up to one's expectations. In Cecil's case, however, he proved to be a source of continual inspiration as well as a constant reminder to up my game whenever I could. I don't think he would have been comfortable hearing this from me; he may have considered it the fawning praise of a writer who eventually changed careers and left the daily grind of the fourth estate behind. Unfortunately, I will now never know.
I will, however, do my best to carry on the legacy he gave me, whether he ever knew it or not. I will start with making a modest edit to the phrase that used to ring out across my newsrooms: Praise when it is warranted, always. Only criticize when it is absolutely necessary. You never know who might be reading along with the words you are writing.