Is the release of Maurice Smith from the Alabama football team setting a dangerous precedent?
Samyra Smith, Maurice Smith’s mom, talked quite a bit over the last few days. She talked to AL.com. She talked to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In fact, she talked to pretty much anyone that would listen.
Oddly enough, Maurice himself didn’t talk nearly as much.
As this undeniably ugly saga has played out over the past few weeks, one thing has become increasingly clear: Maurice Smith defers to his mother above everyone else.
It was Samyra that sent Coach Saban an email (without her son’s knowledge) about Smith’s reduced playing time. It was also Samyra that ordered her husband and son out of the room so she could talk privately with Saban. She claims she was worried that Maurice would lose his scholarship, despite the fact that he would have probably been the starter at nickel for the Crimson Tide this year.
Most in the media have painted this as a concerned mother that only wants the best for her son. They’ve upheld Maurice as a hero, a veteran of the team that has put in his time and earned the right to play where he wants to play. Coach Saban is routinely made out to be the villain, ruthlessly attempting to thwart the hopes of an innocent young man.
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However, if you’ll take a closer look at the situation for a moment, you might just come away with a different opinion.
Nick Saban has always been in the business of winning. “The Process” has become known far and wide as the philosophy of a man obsessed with striving for perfection from himself and those around him. Saban doesn’t smile after a blowout win against an overmatched opponent; he gripes that the team lost focus in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter and allowed a touchdown, narrowing the margin of victory to only 35 points.
To some, this comes across as extreme. They see Saban as a strict disciplinarian, never satisfied with his teams’ best efforts. That is simply not true.
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Most people have never been highly recruited football players. They have never felt the adoration of their school’s fanbase poured out on them. They’ve not received text messages from famous coaches, asking them to be a part of their team. Most people haven’t been told that they’re the next Deion Sanders or Jerry Rice. College life is a massive change for anyone coming out of high school, but for a highly recruited athlete it can be almost impossible to adapt to the seismic lifestyle shift. Many 4 and 5-star players never make the adjustment and end up becoming casualties of the system; chewed up, spit out, and forgotten.
Everyone that’s associated with the Alabama football program will tell you that Saban doesn’t just preach “The Process” from the media room pulpit; he preaches it in practice, he preaches it in recruiting, and he preaches it from behind the desk in his office. If Nick Saban is obsessed with anything, it’s with raising the standard of those he has influence over from acceptable to exceptional. His mantra of “doing the things necessary to put yourself in a position to be successful” might come across as coach speak to most, but Saban believes it and expects it from his players and coaches.
This is the secret weapon behind the unprecedented success Alabama has enjoyed over the past 8 years. Kids come in from high school, and rather than being coddled or pampered; they enter “The Process”. It’s the same for the 3-star punter to the 5-star quarterback. If you come to Alabama and buy in, you have a very good chance of becoming part of something special and adding a large piece of jewelry to your collection. If you don’t buy in, you’re probably not going to enjoy your time at Alabama.
Once again, a lot of people may read this and think it’s all about winning. I’m not going to lie to you and say that winning isn’t a part of it, but it’s certainly not all of it. A large part of what Coach Saban does is to prepare these young men for the next step up in their lives. Self-discipline, hard work, focus, and mental toughness are all things that made the greatest NFL players stand apart. Saban has a few years to mold these young men into the caliber of people that can be successful where so many have failed. Some would point to the recent failings of Rolando McClain and Trent Richardson as evidence that it doesn’t always work, and sure, no one is going to have a 100% success rate. It’s still true that the vast majority of Alabama players in the NFL owe Nick Saban a debt of gratitude for where they are today.
Which brings us back to our point: Maurice Smith, or rather Samyra Smith.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when they must cede their opinion to the experts. I’m not going to walk into a room where surgery is being performed and tell the surgeon how to do his job. I’m also not going to walk into Coach Saban’s office and tell him how to do his. He’s the expert. He’s the guy that has put more players in the NFL over the last few seasons than anyone. He’s the guy with all the rings.
That didn’t stop Samyra.
Without any knowledge of what goes on within the team setting, she demanded that her son be given more playing time. When that didn’t work out like she expected, she demanded that her son be allowed to transfer to a team within the SEC, a move forbidden by conference rules. Maurice has admitted that things changed after his mother’s email to Coach Saban, but rather than place any blame on her for intruding her unsolicited opinion into the situation, it seems that all the blame has been placed on Coach Saban and the Alabama program.
“Who knows what another year in the Alabama program could have done for Maurice Smith? It certainly would have looked better on his resumé than what’s happened over the last few weeks.”
Now, Samyra Smith has gotten her way. She’s blacked the eye of the best football program in America, and given it’s enemies fodder to use in upcoming recruiting battles.
But at what cost? What is the message being sent to young kids across the football landscape? Take team matters to the public if you don’t get your way. Be sure to blast the coaches and teammates that supported you and worked with you to make you better. If all else fails, call mom and she’ll fix it.
The precedent set by this incident could spell trouble down the road for players that lack the discipline necessary to forge through tough times and come out stronger. Who knows what another year in the Alabama program could have done for Maurice Smith? It certainly would have looked better on his resumé than what’s happened over the last few weeks.
This isn’t the end of college football as we know it, but it might be a signal that in this increasingly social world, the loudest voice is often the most heard, no matter how wrong it may be.