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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

Nick Saban knows Jalen Hurts ain't never been nuthin' but a winner

Let me tell you a Jalen Hurts story. You have never heard it because I have never told it. The other two people in the room at the time have never shared it, either, as far as I know. It's a story that's particularly relevant at the moment as Hurts prepares to lead the Philadelphia Eagles into the NFC Championship Game and fans debate whether Alabama can "claim him" since he didn't finish his college career there.

This story triggers questions with no empirical answers and invites contemplation of an alternate reality that never seemed necessary to consider. Until now.

Did Alabama get the best out of Jalen Hurts? Would he be a finalist for NFL MVP in his third professional season if he hadn't left Alabama for Oklahoma after his junior year? Conventional wisdom around here has been clear. Nick Saban made the right call when he chose Tua Tagovailoa over Hurts as the Alabama starter for 2018.

In hindsight, are we still sure?

Now for the story. It was the summer of 2019. I was out of state visiting a former NFL player from the state of Alabama to discuss a project. His son was a high school quarterback with potential so he'd hired a personal coach to tutor him. That coach once played quarterback in the NFL.

During my visit, the NFL QB turned QB coach happened to be there. My friend introduced us, and when he learned what I did for so long and where I did it, he asked my opinion of Jalen Hurts.

Made sense. At the time, Hurts was getting ready to start preseason camp at Oklahoma. He had just transferred there after losing the starting job at Alabama to Tagovailoa the year before. Hurts made one memorable appearance during the 2018 season, subbing for an injured Tua in the SEC Championship Game and leading a stirring fourth-quarter comeback.

When the former NFL quarterback asked, I talked about Hurts as a young man of character, a young man mature beyond his years. In other words, I talked about him more as a person than as a quarterback.

The former NFL quarterback listened patiently, and then he went off. Not on me as much as on Saban and his choice to go with the sophomore Tua over the junior Jalen to start the 2018 season. He said Hurts had done nothing to lose the starting job. He said Saban had made a mistake.

I pushed back. As a sophomore in 2017, Hurts had struggled in the Iron Bowl loss to Auburn, the playoff semifinal win over Clemson and the first half of the national title game against Georgia. Tagovailoa, a much more polished passer, had to come out of the bullpen to save the day and snatch away another big ring.

How does the artist behind 2nd and 26 not rise to first on the depth chart? And weren't injuries to Tagovailoa the only thing that prevented an Alabama repeat in 2018?

The former NFL QB heard me, but he wasn't having it. Maybe I should've listened more closely.

As much respect as most of us had for Hurts during his three seasons in Tuscaloosa, did we fully appreciate what he accomplished? Were we too bedazzled by the shiny new Tua? Were the coaches? Did everyone undervalue the core ability known as durability?

Read the rest of Kevin's look back at Jalen Hurts' time at Alabama. Only in The Lede.

Alabama coach Nick Saban and quarterback Jalen Hurts celebrate the 2018 Sugar Bowl win over Clemson.



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