Alabama football coach Nick Saban denied Thursday sending a not-so-subtle message to Crimson Tide basketball coach Nate Oats while discussing a suspension for freshman defensive back Tony Mitchell. Specifically, Saban appeared to reference Oats' handling of star freshman Brandon Miller, who is connected to a fatal shooting in Tuscaloosa from January, when talking about Mitchell.
"There's nothing to clarify," Saban said Thursday, per 247Sports. "I don't watch basketball coaches' press conferences. How many years have I been coaching? Never watched one, never listen to what other people say. That was strictly about our program and what we do. It had nothing to do with anybody else. I don't make any comments about anybody else. We hope the basketball team does really, really well."
Mitchell was arrested in Florida during spring break and charged with marijuana possession with the intent to sell and/or deliver and carrying a concealed firearm without a permit. He allegedly was driving 141mph at the time of the incident.
"Everybody's got an opportunity to make choices and decisions," Saban said of Mitchell's suspension. "There's no such thing as being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
That statement raised eyebrows considering Oats said in February that Miller was in the "wrong spot at the wrong time" when asked about his player's connection to the killing of 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris. Police testimony states Miller brought a gun to a teammate, Darius Miles, that was later used to fatally shoot Harris. Miller has not been charged in the incident, however. Oats later apologized for his statement.
Oats, like Saban, spoke with reporters on Thursday -- one day prior to the top-seeded Crimson Tide's Sweet 16 matchup vs. 5-seed San Diego State. Oats echoed Saban's sentiment that the statements by the two coaches on the separate situations were purely coincidental.
"[Saban] and I talked that night," Oats said. "I didn't take it that way at all. I've got a ton of respect for coach. I said in my opening press conference when I got hired at Alabama that he may be the best coach for team sports in modern sports history. When I was a high school coach back at Romulus, I had a whole section of Saban quotes in our practice plan. I still have it. I probably use them a little less now that we're here had, and they get plenty of Saban quotes just in the regular media."
Saban has a tendency to use his press conferences to make statements to his players, especially in situations when he knows they'll resonate across the country. Whether his words were deliberately intended for Oats or an honest coincidence, there's no doubt that a statement was made to the football team.