Maybe Nick Saban could lend Nate Oats and the Alabama athletic administration his moral compass, since they are so clearly lacking their own.
Saban’s suspension of a notable freshman football player following an arrest on drug charges is, by itself, a sharp contrast to Oats’ continuous enabling of Brandon Miller. But it was his reasoning for why, and the specific words he used to explain it, that were a stinging rebuke of Oats and Alabama administrators’ cold-hearted calculation that winning matters more than doing the right thing.
“There’s no such thing as the wrong place at the wrong time,” Saban said Monday.
Only Saban knows whether he was deliberately echoing the words Oats used to excuse Miller’s presence at a shooting that killed a woman. But finally, someone at Alabama has acknowledged there are things more important than NCAA Tournament wins and the five-figure bonuses and TV time that come with them.
Miller, as Oats and his bosses will tell you, has not been charged with any crime or accused of any specific wrongdoing, and that is true. But just because someone is not legally culpable does not mean they are not morally accountable.
The horrific sequence of events that Jan. 14 night would have unfolded in another manner if not for Miller. Had he acted differently, a young woman wouldn’t be dead. Had he made other choices, a former player facing capital murder charges might have a chance at salvaging some of his life.
“You’ve got to be responsible for who you’re with, who you’re around and what you do; who you associate yourself (with) and the situations that you put yourself in,” Saban said. “It is what it is, but there is cause and effect when you make choices and decisions that put you in bad situations.”
Saban was referring to freshman defensive back Tony Mitchell, who was arrested last week and charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell and/or deliver. A “significant amount of marijuana, a set of scales, a loaded handgun … and a large amount of cash” were found in Mitchell’s car, according to police.
But Saban could easily have been referring to Miller and Oats, too.
By not disciplining Miller at all and downplaying his responsibility, Oats is telling his uber-talented freshman his skills are a get-out-of-jail-free card. So long as Miller can average close to a double-double a game, nothing else he does matters. Who he is doesn’t matter. His character doesn’t matter.
It’s a horrible message to send to a still-impressionable 20-year-old whose career, if he’s lucky, will last 10, maybe 15 years. Miller will spend most of his life as a “former” player, and he’s going to be in for a rude awakening when he discovers the world won’t cut him slack because he used to play Division I basketball.
As for Oats, he might get a fat contract extension if Miller takes him to the Final Four or, God forbid, the national title. But when he looks back 20 years from now, will he recall this season with pride? Or will he feel shame at how quick he was to sell his soul for it?
Some might say it’s easy for Saban to stake out the moral high ground. Football season is still four months away. Mitchell, though a highly touted prospect, remains unproven with the Crimson Tide. With seven national titles, six of which he’s won at Alabama, Saban could throw shade at a room full of the school’s biggest boosters and no one would say a word.
None of that means he’s wrong.
The ease with which Oats and Alabama abandoned all principles because they see Miller as their ticket to a national championship is shameful. The way they’ve treated Miller, as a means to an end rather than a young adult in need of guidance, is callous.
Life is a series of choices, and there are consequences for all of them. With one Alabama coach, at least.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.