Alabama athletic director Bill Battle said: "Our coaches and I feel he is worthy of a second chance at completing his college football career."
After Taylor was arrested on domestic violence charges Saturday night, Alabama now has egg on its face.
When Taylor was admitted to Alabama, Saban, Battle and the university's administration were fully aware that he was a two-time loser at Georgia before Bulldogs coach Mark Richt kicked him off the team. Taylor was arrested twice in five months last year for allegedly double-cashing meal-reimbursement checks from the UGA athletic department, and then, worse, allegedly choking and striking his girlfriend with a closed fist during an altercation in his dorm room.
Now, Taylor is a three-time loser. He was arrested in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Saturday night on charges of domestic violence third-degree assault and domestic violence third-degree criminal mischief following an altercation with his girlfriend. According to Tuscaloosa police, Taylor's 24-year-old girlfriend had minor injuries to her neck. Police also found a bedroom closet door with a hole punched in it.
On Sunday afternoon, Saban issued a statement: "Jonathan Taylor has been dismissed from the team and is no longer a part of our program. This will still need to go through the legal process, but when he was given an opportunity here, it was under strict guidelines and we made it clear there was a zero tolerance policy."
Alabama gave Taylor a "second chance." Taylor needed all of 80 days on campus to blow it. Never mind that Taylor should have never been on Alabama's campus to begin with.
At a time when the NFL and other pro sports have increased their awareness about domestic violence, following high-profile incidents involving Ray Rice and others, Alabama took a foolish chance on Taylor for one reason. After watching Ohio State's offensive line push around his defensive line in a 42-35 loss in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff, Saban wanted to make sure it didn't happen again.
So Alabama signed Taylor. If Taylor had managed to stay out of trouble -- and, oh, avoid criminal convictions and prison time for his previous arrests in Georgia -- he might have immediately bolstered the Crimson Tide's defensive front.
Make no mistake: Alabama's decision wasn't about rehabilitation and second chances. It was about winning, and now the Crimson Tide look like big losers -- from the top down. It's not like Alabama is Louisville, where Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino seems to take any SEC reject as he tries to build his program. The Crimson Tide have the pick of the litter when it comes to recruiting. For whatever reason, they chose a troubled prospect with fleas.
Signing Taylor was never worth the risk. He still faces a criminal trial in Athens, Georgia, on two felony counts of aggravated assault. Taylor was arrested July 22 after an altercation with his girlfriend in his UGA dorm room. Under a new Georgia law, which went into effect last year, Taylor was charged with two felonies because police believe the alleged assault involved attempted strangulation. A UGA police report said Taylor is 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds; police said his girlfriend is 5-foot-11, 170 pounds.
Taylor was also one of four Georgia players arrested in March 2014 on misdemeanor charges of theft by deception for allegedly double-cashing meal-reimbursement checks from the UGA athletic department. Taylor was ordered to repay the money and complete community service and was allowed to remain on the team. After his July arrest, however, Taylor was removed from a pretrial intervention program. He faces a June 15 trial on two misdemeanor charges of theft by deception.
At the time of Taylor's arrest on aggravated assault charges, his high school coach told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Taylor "obviously stubbed his toe."
"Let's let the dust settle a bit, but that kid is distraught and tore up about everything," former Jenkins County (Georgia) High School coach Chuck Conley told the AJC. "The track record doesn't speak highly of him, but he's not a bad person. He's a very good person. I trust him with my life."
Sure, but would anyone else?
Like Taylor's high school coach, Alabama chose to overlook his ugly past.
Taylor, a junior from Millen, Georgia, spent last season playing at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Mississippi. After Taylor spent five months in exile from the SEC, Saban apparently believed he was rehabilitated. While Saban made the decision to recruit and sign Taylor, he isn't the only one at Alabama to blame. Battle approved Taylor's commitment, and Alabama's admissions office chose to admit him. In such a high-risk decision, you also have to believe that university president Judy Bonner had to sign off on it.
When Alabama announced Taylor was joining its team on national signing day, university spokeswoman Deborah Lane said in a statement to ESPN.com that athletics is not involved in the admissions process.
"Jonathan Taylor was admitted to the University of Alabama following the same procedures that the UA Admissions office uses to evaluate any student who has dealt with legal issues," Lane said in a statement. "The admissions process includes representatives from academic, legal, student affairs, student conduct, UAPD and counseling."
What were the first three questions on Alabama's admissions application? Height, weight and career tackles in the SEC?
Sadly, the ugly matter really goes beyond Alabama. Shouldn't there be a national policy in place that prevents players convicted of felonies -- and those who are accused of such crimes but who haven't yet faced criminal trials -- from transferring to other schools? Sure, people can be rehabilitated and learn from their mistakes, but that doesn't necessarily mean they deserve to play college football and receive a scholarship.
One of Mike Slive's last duties as SEC commissioner needs to be instituting a rule that prohibits student-athletes convicted of felonies from transferring from one SEC school to another. Players accused of violent crimes like domestic assault also need to be off-limits, at least until the criminal justice system has run its course and they've either been acquitted or convicted. It might be just me, but it doesn't make much sense that players can lose their NCAA eligibility for selling their autographs, but others can transfer and play immediately after being charged with beating a woman.
Taylor's attorney, Kim Stephens, told ESPN.com in February that Alabama wasn't the only SEC school that recruited his client. Unfortunately for Alabama, it was the school that signed him.
And now Saban and the university's administration will have to deal with the ugly consequences of making such a thoroughly stupid decision.