Nick Saban LSU

LSU head coach Nick Saban voices his displeasure over the previous play called during the Purple/White spring game in on April 24, 2004 in Baton Rouge.

We'll dip into the archives again today, hopefully with something to relieve the emptiness everyone is feeling with college football's lack of spring "football" games.

This essay takes us all the way back to April of 2004, when it was popular for coaches to call upon media members to act like they were coaching the spring game. Even gave us a whistle (a mistake, as it turned out, but that's another story and not really relevant to this plot, so don't ask again).

Anyway, it was always a farce and the ol' media ploy seems to have waned in recent years.

But this was the spring after Saban's 2003 national championship at LSU.

My biggest memory of the day, it turns out, did not make the column.

But the statute of limitations has now run out, so why not?

In pregame in the locker room, we "coaches" kind stood off to the side while a real-life assistant rallied the troops with fiery, regular-season-worthy pep talk.

Which is to say, it contained a lot of salty language not fit for newsprint.

As luck would have it, the media weren't the only outsiders on hand.

There was also a faculty representative on hand, in this case a very nice, elderly woman dressed like she was ready for church.

I was standing next to her, as a matter of fact, and mostly I remember avoiding eye contact during this particular pep talk.

I'm not sure she really heard any new words. But I'd bet she learned some new combinations of the old classics and handled it like a trooper.

Anyway, here goes …


BATON ROUGE — After much soul searching, I've decided to retire from coaching.

I'm afraid there won't even be a farewell tour. It's a noble calling, to be sure. But henceforth my involvement will be limited to second-guessing them and pointing out their numerous foibles.

I'm done with the sidelines. It's exciting, it's exhilarating, it's occasionally uplifting. But mostly it's unfettered chaos down there. So with a now 0-2 career record in LSU spring games following Saturday's heartbreaking 22-3 loss by my Purple squad, I'm hanging up the whistle.

You can blame head coach Nick Saban, who served as "commissioner," of this folly, mainly because this is the second time in his five spring games he's kidnapped me from the press box in a desperate attempt to provide some spark to one of his teams.

So I should have known better.

If you're wondering what it's like down there on the sideline trenches, I can tell you there is one job I might consider in the future.

The sideline is a 60-minute fire drill, the confusion broken only by scattered outbreaks of total pandemonium.

That's the way it looked to me, at least.

The regular coaches looked to know what they were doing.

Some coach would yell "Blue Suede" (or some such) and the sidelines would re-choreograph itself with a couple of players stationing themselves at ready alert, a couple of others on deck and a few others presumably free to catch a nap.

But LSU has one person on its staff, presumably well paid, whose sole job (best I could tell) is to continuously walk up and down the sideline, threatening players with extra study hall if they don't "MOVE BACK AWAY FROM THE SIDELINES!"

He's fairly obsessed with it and he puts in about 52 miles over the course of a game, forever fighting a losing battle to stem the ebb and flow of the curious.

It doesn't help much.

You can't see squat from down there, which is another vote for a permanent return to the press box.

But there seemed to be little pressure involved with his sideline policing task.

Me, on the other hand, I was down there boiling in the tea kettle, desperately trying to inspire young men, most of whom responded to my pleas by looking at me curiously and asking, "Who are you?"

Maybe I should have known in pregame it wasn't to be.

Continuing a tradition, I told my co-media head coach, Glenn Guilbeau, of the Gannett News Service, that we really needed to meet with the officials in pregame.

So after Guilbeau offended the white hat with a low-ball offer of $20, I brushed him away knowingly and followed up with a crisp $100 bill extended.

"You're going to have to dig a lot deeper than that," the ref laughed.

And if that's what it takes to keep it fair these days, the cost of intercollegiate athletics has skyrocketed way out of control and you can count me out.

But if you should ever find yourself entrusted with this coaching task, this would be my suggestion: draft the offensive tackles.

The White team had two starting offensive tackles. Do the math. It left my Purples with none. The Purples thus got sacked nine times, the Whites but once, and I must have missed that one.

Admittedly I was overlooking this when I gazed over the rosters and pronounced the Purples as heavy favorites based on the skill positions and fill-in coaches.

Just before game time, I consulted with offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher and vetoed the idea of an off-tackle play to open the game.

"That's just what they'll be expecting," I told Fisher wisely. "We'll not be running into the pile on first down."

So our play-action pass got batted back into cheap seats and the tone was set.

Hey, it happens. But I guess what really soured me on coaching was Saban's later reaction to our first punt (or our first punt attempt, as it were). We had a potential All-American center snapping to what appeared to be a 6-foot-11 punter and we still managed to sail it 6 feet over his head into our own end zone. I was furious.

Saban, who can get irate if a blade of grass at midfield is out of place for pregame warmups, later went to great lengths to point out to the media that there are some things in a spring game he doesn't worry about.

Ben Wilkerson, he said, had never deep-snapped in his life and would be third or fourth in line for the chore once the recruiting class gets here in August.

Fat lot of good that will do me.

Or maybe it was that my quarterback, JaMarcus Russell, not only quit on me in the fourth quarter, he went and joined the other team — per Saban's instructions. And he led them to a crisp, clinching touchdown.

"See what he can do when he has some protection," Fisher turned and said to no one in particular after a nice Russell completion.

Fisher seemed pleased, even satisfied.

And that's another problem.

At one point I was asking Fisher what we might try to get the kind of pass rush the Whites were destroying us with, but he didn't hear me. He was too busy offering advice to Marcus Randall — the other team's quarterback.

So I was already questioning his loyalty when he started smirking about Russell's resurgence with an honest offensive line.

"Jimbo, he's on their

team now," I pleaded.

"Yeah," Fisher said. "But I've got to coach him tomorrow."

Not me.

So the heck with it. I coached great, to be honest, bordering on spectacular, possibly even revolutionary and certainly innovative. My team just played real, real bad.

When they don't execute your genius, it can be a lonely, betrayed feeling. It was a great plan that didn't work, which is the way football is sometimes.

I just thought you should know that it wasn't my fault.

And if that's throwing young kids under the bus, then crank it up.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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