TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban shouldn’t get credit for uncovering NCAA bylaw 188.8.131.52, but he is well on his way to becoming the most prolific coach to use the exception allowing former student-athletes to practice with the team on an "occasional basis."
As far as we know, Cal coach Sonny Dykes was the first coach to call on a former player to practice on his scout team, and he’s reportedly done so just once this season, with that player being the recently retired Marshawn Lynch.
But Alabama and Saban appear to be far more eager to use the bylaw to their advantage. The term "occasional" is open-ended, after all, and the school has said that it ensured its compliance with the NCAA and SEC offices.
So what began with former Tide quarterback Blake Sims simulating Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight in practice appears to have no end in sight. After beating the Aggies, Saban invited former quarterback John Parker Wilson to help the team prepare for LSU. Saban also had former Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson out to practice, simulating LSU running back Leonard Fournette.
"I know we have some guys coming back this week, too," Saban said on Wednesday, "that we’re anxious to see."
It will be interesting to find out what former player helped No. 1-ranked Alabama prepare for Saturday’s game against Mississippi State.
What’s been equally interesting to watch unfold is the reaction from fellow coaches.
Auburn’s Gus Malzahn claimed that he didn’t know anything about it and said, "We stick to our team."
"Hate I didn’t think of it first," said Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze.
"It's an example of how he approaches the game -- himself and the creative people he surrounds himself with," said Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin.
But not all responses were as fawning or even ambivalent.
Outside of the SEC, Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly told reporters he didn’t like the rule and thought it was "absolutely ludicrous."
"You do whatever you think is right and whatever you think can give you an advantage," Kelly said, "and bringing that young man back sounds like a great deal. It doesn’t sound like college football to me."
But so long as the rule is on the books, Saban will use it to his advantage.
Remember, this is the same coach that wasn't a fan of up-tempo offenses, believing defenses were put at a disadvantage because they couldn't substitute. And along the same lines, he didn't like the rule that allowed linemen to block downfield on run-pass options. But neither rule changed and now Saban uses both tempo and run-pass options in his offense.
In bringing in former players to help on the scout team, Saban sees it as a two-way street. On the one hand, his team obviously benefits. But on the other hand, so do players like Sims or Richardson, who aren't currently on an NFL roster but hope to be soon.
"I just love it that they all want to be back and they all want to be here," Saban said. "... We'd love to see Trent get it turned around and get it on track."