MOBILE — In the midst of a long-awaited reunion following Wednesday’s Senior Bowl practice, Nick Saban had a simple request of his former quarterback.
“I want you to take a picture with our guys,” Saban told Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts after cameras shuttered all around the famous tandem.
Like lifelong friends catching up, Hurts and Saban briefly reconnected more than a year after the now-former Alabama quarterback joined the Sooners as a graduate transfer following a difficult 2018 season spent as the Crimson Tide’s backup to eventual Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa.
Hurts, of course, would go on to lead Oklahoma back to the College Football Playoff this past season while Alabama missed out for the first time since 2015. Hurts would finish the 2019 season ranking third nationally with 5,149 total yards and 53 total touchdowns en route to his own Heisman runner-up finish in December.
“I’m proud of you man,” Saban told Hurts.
“Where’d you get that from?” Hurts asked regarding Saban’s tan peacoat. “Did (his wife) Terry get it for you?”
“Oh yeah,” Saban answered in the affirmative.
“Tell her to get me one, I ain’t a student no more,” Hurts joked.
Saban then revealed a fancy black-and-blue plaid suit beneath his coat.
“Man, you’re styling,” Hurts said.
In his return to the state where his college career began with so much promise four years ago, Hurts remains a beloved figure among Alabama fans, and is still considered a member of the Crimson Tide, especially to Saban.
It’s because of that connection that Saban even did his part to pitch Hurts to interested NFL teams.
“There’s a lot of guys playing in the NFL now that are having a lot of success that are similar style players to Jalen, guys that can make plays with their feet, and I think you know who they are,” Saban said Wednesday while talking to reporters during Wednesday’s South Team practice. “I think that success of those players has kind of broken the stereotype of (teams requiring quarterbacks) to be a drop-back passer. ... You see (Patrick) Mahomes, the guy in Baltimore (Lamar Jackson), and all these guys are athletic guys who can make plays with their feet and create a lot of problems for the old stereotype NFL defense.”
Wednesday was also an opportunity for Saban to reunite with good friend and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, as the two longtime coaches stood side-by-side on the Ladd-Peebles Stadium sideline for more than an hour likely discussing their favorite topic: football.
Along those lines, Saban also confirmed the expected departure of longtime Alabama assistant coach Burton Burns to the NFL, after the former on-field coach turned support staffer was recently hired to become the New York Giants’ running backs coach following two years as the Crimson Tide’s assistant athletic director for football. Burns previously spent the first 11 years of Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa as the team’s running backs and special teams coach, where he was a significant part of Alabama’s five national championship-winning teams.
“Burton’s been with us since the very beginning and he’s done a great job for us in so many ways. I think it’s pretty obvious (by) all the players that he’s mentored that are in the NFL — I think every running back who ever started for us since we’ve been there,” Saban said. “So he’s been a great recruiter, a great ambassador for the program and came off the field because of injury situations to him — a bad knee, a bad hip, spent two years pretty much trying to get healthy. And now that he had an opportunity to go back on the field, he loves coaching, he’s doing it and we’re happy for him.”
Saban also addressed the absence of senior defensive end Raekwon Davis, who was invited to this week’s Senior Bowl but opted out at the last minute citing an ankle injury according to the game’s executive director, Jim Nagy.
“Raekwon called me on Saturday and said he was a still a little bit injured, ‘My ankle is still bothering me a little bit,’” Saban said, “and I said: ‘Look, it’s a simple decision. If you can go create value for yourself because you’re healthy, you need to go play (in the Senior Bowl) because it’s a great opportunity for you. If you don’t feel like you can do that, don’t play but make sure you let them know so they can get somebody else.’
“So he made that decision based on his injury status, but I always encourage guys to play in this game.”