Saban defends officials

Saban defends officials

The Alabama coach says he wouldn't take the criticism that goes with the striped-shirt crews' pay.

November 10th, 2009 by The Decatur Daily in Sports - College

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Don't mess with the refs.

At least keep any criticism away from Nick Saban or be ready to duck.

The weekly, almost ritualistic second-guessing of SEC football officiating is getting old for the Alabama coach. He took a much different path than some of his conference colleagues when faced with a question about Saturday's 24-15 win over LSU.

Whether LSU's Patrick Peterson intercepted Greg McElroy's pass late in the Crimson Tide's SEC West-clinching win isn't the issue for Saban.

"I just really do believe this," he said, visibly animated. "If I was an official and I was making what I made officiating, because I loved the game and I loved doing it, and was getting criticized by the media, including our announcers on TV, like these guys are getting criticized, I think I'd step back and say, 'I think I'm going to the lake this weekend. You guys can have this.' That's what I'd do. Those guys do a great job. They work their tail off and try and do a good job."

Saban's defense comes after weeks of controversy involving coaches criticizing judgment calls in tight games. Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin went as far as to question the motives behind disparities in penalties called in games involving divisional champions Florida and Alabama.

Florida coach Urban Meyer was fined $30,000 last week for questioning a late-hit non-call just days after the league announced stricter penalties for public complaints.

From watching the school's video of the LSU game, Saban said he couldn't tell if Peterson intercepted McElroy's pass thrown with 5:54 to play and the Tide leading 21-15. Peterson said after the game that he was sure he secured the ball before leaving the field of play, but an official review confirmed the original ruling of an incomplete pass. A Leigh Tiffin field goal later in the drive pushed Alabama's lead to nine points -- effectively salting away the win.

Even if the interception was awarded to Peterson, both Saban and McElroy questioned whether LSU could have driven down the field to score the go-ahead touchdown.

"I haven't even seen replays yet of the interception, and I'm not sure if it was an interception or not," McElroy said. "It might have been. Who knows? The guy made a heck of a play on it. Whether it was an interception or not, he broke up a pass and it was a heck of a play."

In Baton Rouge, LSU coach Les Miles balked at the opportunity to complain about the call.

"I know these officials are trying," he said during his weekly news conference. "They are doing everything they can to get it right. The final score is the final score. The officials are working hard to get it right. If I felt differently, I would say so."

Several Alabama players faced similar questions about the situation and officiating in general Monday. There were no critics in the group that included a sympathetic Javier Arenas.

"They probably have the hardest job out there," said Arenas, who was named the SEC defensive player of the week Monday. "They've got to tell 92,000 angry fans what they don't want to hear. And those fans have beer bottles in their hands. They have the hardest job out there. I've never questioned officials. Even if I do, I keep it part of myself."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.