TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — During his Saturday news conference, Alabama coach Nick Saban’s most passionate response to a question had nothing to do with the Crimson Tide’s upcoming Sugar Bowl opponent.
Asked about defensive lineman D.J. Pettway and how he’s made the most of his second chance, Saban praised Pettway for taking advantage of the new opportunity he was given and working to receive his degree.
Pettway was dismissed from school back in February 2013 after an arrest stemming from an on-campus robbery. He rejoined the program in January 2014 after a year at East Mississippi Community College.
Flash forward to last week when Pettway graduated. On the field, he’s served as a pass rushing specialist for the top-ranked Tide who is preparing for a Sugar Bowl matchup with Ohio State on Jan. 1.
“It’s really, really good for me and I think for our administration around here who, our president, who shakes hands with all of our players when they walk across the stage and graduate, when we give somebody a second chance and they do well and graduate from school,” Saban said. “There’s always a lot of criticism out there when somebody does something wrong, everybody wants to know how you’re going to punish the guy. There’s not enough for 19 and 20-year-old kids, people out there saying, ‘Why don’t you give them another chance?’ “
From there, Saban took it up a notch and said, “I’m going to give a speech right now about this.”
“Where do you want them to be?” Saban asked. “Guy makes a mistake. Where do you want them to be? You want him to be in the street or do you want them to be here graduating?”
For an example, Saban recalled his handling of Muhsin Muhammad, who ran into trouble while playing for Saban at Michigan State. Saban said he saw Muhammad at the Nagurski Award banquet.
“Everybody in the school, every newspaper guy, everybody was killing a guy because he got in trouble and they said there’s no way he should be on our team,” Saban said. “I didn’t kick him off the team. I suspended him. I made him do some stuff.”
— Nick Saban
After graduating from Michigan State, Muhammad went on to have a 15-year NFL career — mostly with the Carolina Panthers. Muhammad would go on to create The M2 Foundation for Kids, which is dedicated to enhancing the mental and physical development of children. Saban added that Muhammad is the “president of a company,” and has seven children. His oldest daughter attends Princeton.
“So who was right?,” Saban asked. “I feel strong about this now, really strong, about all the criticism out there about every guy who is 19 years old and makes a mistake and you all kill them. And then some people won’t stand up for them. So my question to you is, where do you want them to be? Want to condemn them to a life sentence? Or do you want a guy to have his children going to Princeton?”
As for Pettway, Saban said he “has done a really good job for us all year long.” On the season, Pettway has 22 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and five quarterback hurries.
“He’s a hard worker, he’s certainly been productive for us in the games and he’s provided a lot of depth for us,” Saban said. “He’s been a starter at times. He gives us something in pass rush that we don’t have enough guys who can do that with some of the bigger guys we have to play with on run downs he comes in and plays a real critical role for us.”