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AP file photo by Vasha Hunt / Alabama football coach Nick Saban said he doesn't "really make a lot of decisions about guys getting hurt" after Tua Tagovailoa dislocated his right hip during Saturday's game at Mississippi State, ending the Crimson Tide quarterback's season.

University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban makes $8.6 million a year to win games. That is beyond argument or discussion, as is the fact that no one else in his sport has accomplished that task so well for so long.

But he's also won five national championships and 136 games since the start of the 2009 season due to supremely talented athletes who flock to Tuscaloosa from all across the country because they believe Saban is the best coach in the country to develop them as quickly as possible to earn NFL riches.

Not that it's the NFL dream only that pulls them to Houndstoothville. In an increasingly muddied NCAA landscape regarding players' rights, safety and possible financial rewards, casting their lot with Saban has provided a win-win situation for both parties on multiple fronts.

The players' obscene athletic gifts help the Crimson Tide prevail on the field more often than any other football factory, which brings those players early notoriety and earns Saban extra cash through performance bonuses. Conversely, his coaching and advice give them the best path to prepare for NFL life both on and off the field. It's pretty much been a marriage made in heaven since he first arrived at the Capstone prior to the 2007 season.

But could all that have changed with Saturday's devastating hip injury to star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa? Was it really in Tua's long-term best interests to still be playing on a surgically repaired and still-tender right ankle with the Tide already bludgeoning Mississippi State 35-7 in the closing minutes of the opening half in Starkville?

Did Saban put the present good of the program over the future good of Tagovailoa?

In a world where, somewhat sadly, perception far too often overwhelms reality, has the perception of Saban overnight changed from that of a nearly flawless football savant to a far less flattering win-at-any-cost tyrant?

Sure, at least according to Saban, Tua wanted to keep playing. Players always want to play. Especially the ones with enough talent and dedication to earn scholarships to Alabama.

And the Tide coaching staff, again according to Saint Nick, apparently wanted to get in a few reps running their two-minute offense, though there was 3:42 on the clock at the start of that fateful drive.

Beyond that, some might argue that with Tua at quarterback and wide receivers Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith to throw to, every possession is a two-minute drill for the offense.

For proof, this year's squad has finished off drives of 40 yards or longer in less than two minutes a ridiculous 18 times, 16 of those with Tua at quarterback and twice with backup Mac Jones. Only one of those — against top-ranked LSU — came in the final two minutes of a game, but to say the Tide needed such work against a clearly overmatched opponent seems somewhat of a stretch.

What is the more likely truth is that having lost to LSU and fallen to fifth behind No. 4 Georgia in last week's College Football Playoff rankings, Saban believed, and somewhat understandably, that he needed an impressive road rout of Mississippi State — as well as easy wins in the Tide's final two games against Western Carolina and at Auburn — to convince the CFP committee that Bama deserves a mulligan.

Would it have worked, this piling up of points? Maybe. Assuming that current unbeatens LSU, Ohio State and Clemson are locks, Bama would have certainly appeared to have a shot at being the fourth team if LSU were to beat Georgia in the Southeastern Conference title game next month.

But under that logic, that 35-7 lead in the final four minutes of the first half should have been enough to send Tagovailoa to the bench.

Yet it's also fair to defend Saban on one crucial point. It wasn't a reinjuring of the ankle that did in his star quarterback. It was the hip. So Saban wasn't wrong to observe: "It's kind of a freak thing that you seldom see."

Unfortunately, hip injuries can also permanently derail a football career. Merely consider two words: Bo Jackson.

That said, no coach should be judged too harshly for putting a player on the field despite the fact he could get hurt. As former Tennessee football coach and current Big Orange athletic director Phillip Fulmer has often said, "You need to live in your hopes instead of your fears."

But discretion is also often the better part of valor. To say, as Saban did of Tagovailoa, "He was good, at least as good as he was a week ago in terms of his ability to move," isn't that strong a defense given that his quarterback never looked overwhelmingly mobile or healthy against LSU.

It's also a copout to say Tagovailoa "wanted to go in the game."

Players are emotional. Coaches are supposed to be level-headed. Saban had his impressive first-half lead. Knowing when to hold 'em and knowing when to fold 'em is one of those talents he's supposed to be the best at exercising.

"We can second-guess ourselves all we want," a defensive Saban said Saturday. "I don't really make a lot of decisions about guys getting hurt."

Perhaps not. But the worry for Bama Nation should be how much all those future high-level recruits may start second-guessing their long-held beliefs that Saban always puts his players' long-term best interests above the short-term interest of the team on their intended path to NFL paychecks.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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