Saban said Alabama has a 12-course program in behavior for success and has psychiatrists or sports psychologists talk to troubled players.
“I always talk to our players about being a blinking light,” he said. “If you look at a Christmas tree, when all lights shine bright, it’s beautiful. But if one light’s going like this (flickering), your attention is just to that light. Nobody should be a blinking light. The players always bring that up to me: `This guy is a strobe light, man.’”
Even the week of media days started with legal matters.
Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M pleaded guilty on Monday to a misdemeanor of not identifying himself to a police officer following a 2012 altercation at a bar near campus. That day, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin identified four players dismissed from school in June for an incident being investigated by police as a possible sex crime.
Franklin said he and Vandy won’t sign players they believe have character issues for the sake of winning.
“I can’t speak for other places or other institutions but not at Vanderbilt,” Franklin said. “It’s never been that way in the past. It’s not that way presently. It will never be in the future. That’s not what we’re all about.”
Sometimes seemingly chancy decisions pay huge dividends, sometimes not. First-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has been on both sides. He helped recruit quarterback Cam Newton, who had run into legal trouble at Florida, from junior college while the Tigers’ offensive coordinator. Newton won a Heisman Trophy and led Auburn to a national title.
Malzahn also signed tailback Mike Dyer at Arkansas State after the BCS championship game MVP was dismissed from Auburn. Dyer was booted from the team without playing after being caught with a gun during a traffic stop.
“You have to weigh everything,” Malzahn said. “Talent. You’ve got to weigh character. You’ve got to go with your gut instincts on what type of environment you want to have for your team.”
Commissioner Mike Slive called it “a crushing disappointment” when a current or former SEC athlete runs afoul of the law. He said any perception outside the league that coaches or schools don’t police or discipline athletes is inaccurate.
“In some ways, it’s an inverse form of flattery,” Slive said. “I mean, we have about 1,800 football players. We can count on one hand the behavioral issues, but they get the headlines and the disappointments.”
One of college football’s biggest stars, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, said he avoids trouble caused by reckless Tweets or off-the-field misdeeds.
“I don’t go to bars,” Clowney said. “I don’t drink or anything. I just stay out of trouble, stay at home. I hang out with the same group of guys I grew up with, the same three guys every day. We play games and stay out of trouble. We eat, come back and play games. Just stay in the house. You can’t get in trouble in your own home, I hope.”
AP Sports Writer David Brandt contributed to this story.