Edwards: Major college coaches work to protect their secrets
by Mark Edwards
medwards@annistonstar.com
Apr 01, 2013 | 3542 views |  0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Before Nick Saban coached a single Alabama spring practice in 2007, a reporter asked him about whether he would allow media members to watch all of his workouts.

“How would that help me win?” Saban asked.

We reporters complained and squawked about not getting much access to Tide practice, but it’s hard to argue with Saban’s logic.

And with more and more information available online, more college coaches seem to share Saban’s view to stem the flow when it concerns their team. They aren’t eager to have their secrets exposed on the Internet any more than they have to be.

New Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has closed all but three of the Razorbacks’ practices this spring to fans and reporters. In the three they’re allowed through the gates, it is for only a limited period. That has caused a minor bit of discussion because it’s much less access than former coach John L. Smith allowed.

Florida coach Will Muschamp — a former Saban assistant — closed all practices to reporters and fans during his first spring in 2011. No Gators coach had done that before, which didn’t earn Muschamp any brownie points with supporters.

Gene Stallings, who coached Alabama during 1990-96, opened almost every practice for the whole workout to newspaper reporters. He allowed more access than his Auburn counterparts, Pat Dye and Terry Bowden. When Stallings was asked why he allowed the guys with notepads inside the gates — which included all of his workouts before facing Miami for the 1992 national title — he said if he were a beat reporter, he kind of would want to watch practice.

He always offered reporters a compromise — if you won’t report on things like trick plays, unusual formations or significant injuries, I’ll let you watch everything we do.

Fair enough.

But Stallings didn’t have to deal with cellphone video cameras. They’ve revolutionized the reporting of practice.

These days, for those few minutes I’m allowed to film, I have my phone out, recording plenty of video.

Nearly every other reporter is doing the same. When our time on the field ends, I go straight to my computer and post some of the video online.

So, even before the team is finished with its workout, fans can see what’s going on in practice. So can opposing teams.

During the season, Saban typically allows reporters to watch one or two of Alabama’s practice periods, with one period lasting about eight minutes. We usually are allowed to shoot video of one period and watch the second one.

This spring, Saban sometimes has increased that to three periods, letting us film all three.

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn has a similar policy, allowing reporters to watch for the first 30 minutes of spring practice. That’s more than his predecessor, Gene Chizik, allowed. It seems a little odd Malzahn is more lenient. When he was Chizik’s offensive coordinator, he always seemed uncomfortable with reporters watching him work with his quarterbacks.

Even without video, there’s still a concern about allowing reporters into workouts. Opposing teams can read news organizations’ practice reports on their computers. In Stallings’ day, that wasn’t a concern. If some reporter broke the agreement and happened to write about Alabama’s trick plays, few beyond his newspaper’s readership knew about it.

When Alabama practiced this past fall, the one period we were allowed to film usually involved little more than some basic fundamental drills. Quarterbacks throw, receivers catch, running backs cut through imaginary defenders, and defensive backs backpedal.

For the second period, the Crimson Tide defensive backs moved on to something more significant — their alignments and coverage responsibilities for the opposing team’s passing game.

At one particular practice, one cameraman watched that drill while leaning against his camera, which still was attached to his tripod. He wasn’t filming. Instead, he was relaxing, just taking in the drill.

Unfortunately for him, he didn’t realize his camera happened to be pointed toward the drill. Saban himself stopped what he was doing, jogged over and asked, “Are you filming this?”

The cameraman nervously assured Saban he wasn’t. Apparently satisfied, Saban jogged back to his drill.

Two Alabama media relations staff members saw this exchange and looked at each other as if to say, “We’re going to get it later.”

Cutting down access isn’t why Saban has won four national titles, and it wasn’t why Auburn won the 2010 championship.

But it hasn’t hurt, and if any of us were to trade places with the Alabama and Auburn coaches, we probably wouldn’t let reporters in for even a minute. How would that help us win?

Contact Anniston Star Sports Editor Mark Edwards at 256-235-3570. Follow on Twitter @MarkSportsStar.

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