Nick Saban: coaches are ‘moral compass’ for players, but can’t ‘drive the ship’

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With the Aaron Hernandez story still very much on the minds of reporters this week, coaches have been getting questions during SEC Media Days about their thoughts on the subject of player behavior. Florida’s Will Muschamp said Tuesday that coaches are “100 percent responsible” for their players, but stopped short of saying they can know what their players are doing 24/7.

Similarly, Alabama’s Nick Saban explained Thursday that a coach can only provide guidance to a player; what the player does with that guidance is up to them.

“We can be the moral compass for our young people but we cannot always be there to drive the ship,” Saban said during his Q&A with media.

The opinions on the responsibility of coaches when it comes to player behavior vary quite a bit. Some think a coach is there solely to win games and graduate their players. Others think it’s a coach’s place to be a role model. As with most things, it falls somewhere in between.

Coaches can give players every opportunity to be successful in football and in life, but ultimately, the athlete has to decide for himself if that’s what he wants. Will coaches take a risk on certain players or give them more chances because of talent? Of course. They still have a job to do.

But it should be considered that, for some of these players, football is more of an escape than a privilege. Sometimes, a coach has to consider if the alternative — a life without the structure of football — is actually worse for the athlete. Not every light bulb turns on at the same time for everyone.

There are obvious exceptions — murder, rape and the like — and each coach handles their personnel differently. But when it comes to player behavior, there is no easy answer.

Keyshawn Johnson Jr. won’t be returning to Nebraska

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So much for that plan.

In late June of this year, Nebraska wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson Jr., the son of former USC great Keyshawn Johnson, was cited for marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.  Not long after, the wide receiver decided to take a leave of absence, with his father stating that his son needed some time to “mature” and would not play for the Cornhuskers in 2017.

At the time, the plan was for the junior Johnson to return to Lincoln and play his college football for Mike Riley.  With his father’s college offensive coordinator now out, so is the younger Keyshawn, which he confirmed via Twitter Friday evening.

Johnson Jr. was a four-star member of the Cornhuskers’ 2017 recruiting class who was an early enrollee and participated in spring practice, but never played a down for the Cornhuskers.  Before signing with Nebraska, he held offers from, among others, Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Ohio State and USC.

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to a potential landing spot: the coach he signed with at NU, Mike Riley, returned to Oregon State late last week as an assistant coach.

CFT Previews: Las Vegas Bowl

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WHO: No. 25 Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)
WHAT: The 26th Las Vegas Bowl
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
THE SKINNY: To say that Oregon and Boise State share a history on the field would be understating things just a bit despite the fact that they’ve played each other just twice. After all, bring up the Ducks to a Broncos fan or vice versa and you’re bound to hear about events from nearly a decade ago when the two played a memorable pair of games for anything but the outcome.

Boise State kicked off a perfect regular season during the first meeting back in 2008, a game best remembered for a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked out then-Ducks starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. College football fans far and wide know all about the rematch a year later, which resulted in a 19-8 victory on the blue turf for the Broncos but is etched into everybody’s minds for LaGarrette Blount punching Byron Hout after the game to ruin Chip Kelly’s debut even further.

Those kinds of games seem like distant memories for both fan bases considering what each side have gone through to get to this point on Saturday.

Boise State enters with their first Mountain West in three years but are not quite the fun, high-scoring team many expected with veteran quarterback Brett Rypien at the controls. The signal-caller has rotated with Kansas transfer Montell Cozart as the offense has resorted to grinding out yards and using second half comebacks instead of scoring at will like in the past. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t explosive however, as wideout Cedrick Wilson is one of the best pass catchers in the region and should find plenty of open space during the game. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch leads the normally stout defense, which has allowed only two 100 yard rushers all season.

On the opposite sideline, Oregon enters on a slightly different note with Mario Cristobal officially coaching his first game as the team’s new head coach. He takes over for Willie Taggart, who left Eugene for the job at Florida State after just a single season at the school. What kind of impact that will have on the Ducks for the game remains to be seen but most of the staff has remained in place to help with bowl preparations so it’s one of the swifter transitions as far as these things go in the postseason.

No matter how fans feel about the new head coach though, chances are good that they’re just happy to have another chance to see what Justin Herbert can do behind center. The quarterback only threw for 1,750 yards and 13 touchdowns this season but suffered a broken collarbone early in the year to derail the team’s hopes of contending in the Pac-12 North. The team went 5-1 in games he started, 2-4 in those he didn’t with a huge drop in points, yards and efficiency. That in turn hurt the productivity of the defense, which is led by linebacker Troy Dye and has still made huge strides from where they were a year ago. Also notable is the team’s best player — running back Royce Freeman — is opting to skip the bowl in order to prepare for the 2018 NFL Draft.

A lot of those factors would have you lean in the direction of the Broncos given the fact that they won the conference title just a few weeks ago and have the kind of defense that could give the Pac-12 power problems running the ball. Cristobal will have the Ducks fired up and ready for this kind of challenge however, and the return of Herbert has made this a completely different — and dangerous — team in their final two games of 2017. Something says the quarterback will be able to use a big performance against the Broncos on Saturday to parlay himself into being a Heisman favorite next season and end the year on a good note for Oregon with a bowl victory.

THE PICK: Oregon 38, Boise State 27

Dan Mullen adds ex-Tennessee assistant to Florida staff

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At last divisionally, the scenery won’t change at all for one SEC East assistant.

Florida announced Friday that Dan Mullen has added Charlton Warren to his Florida coaching staff.  Warren’s specific duties with the Gators in Mullen’s first year as head coach in Gainesville weren’t detailed.

This past season, Warren served as the defensive backs coach at Tennessee as well as the Vols’ special teams coordinator.  New UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt wasn’t expected to retain Warren.

Warren has spent a significant amount of his coaching career overseeing secondaries, so that’s a huge clue as to the general direction in which his duties under Mullen are headed.

Prior to his brief stint on Rocky Top, Warren served as the defensive backs coach at North Carolina (2014-16) and Nebraska (2012-13).  From 2005-13, he was the secondary coach at his alma mater Air Force.  During that time at the service academy, he was also co-defensive coordinator from 2008-11 and solo DC from 2012-13.

Alabama announces hiring of UTSA defensive coordinator

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In early January, new NCAA legislation will officially allow FBS football programs to add a 10th on-field assistant to their coaching staffs.  Friday, Alabama, not surprisingly, became the first Power Five program to officially dip into that particular coaching pool.

The Crimson Tide confirmed in a press release that Pete Golding has been added to Nick Saban‘s staff as an ambiguous defensive assistant.  Golding will not be permitted to assume an on-field role until Jan. 9, the day the 10th assistant rule officially goes into effect.

The 2017 College Football Playoff championship game is scheduled to be played Jan. 8 of next year, for what it’s worth.

“We are pleased to have Pete and his family join our staff at Alabama,” Saban said in a statement. “Pete is an exciting young coach, who has an outstanding reputation as both a teacher and recruiter. He will be a great fit in our organization with his knowledge of the game and his ability to relate to student-athletes. We are thrilled to welcome Pete and his family to Alabama.”

Golding, who will be permitted to work with his new program in an off-field capacity for now, has spent the past two seasons as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at UT-San Antonio.  Prior to that, Golding spent two seasons as the safeties coach at Southern Miss, his first job at the FBS level.

Saban will still need to fill the hole created by defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt‘s hiring as the head coach at Tennessee.  Pruitt will remain at Alabama through its playoff run, however long it lasts.