I've told the humbling story many times and it always seems to get a good laugh. Perhaps you've heard it. Perhaps you haven't. Either way, with LSU hosting Alabama this Saturday, we'll share it with the worldwide web for the first time. It's the tale of a goofy and green sportscaster in Baton Rouge and the highly successful, equally ornery college football coach the city relentlessly worshiped. Gather around everyone and let's recall the day Jacques Doucet parked in Nick Saban's spot.
It was the spring of 2003 and likewise, a busy Saturday for the WAFB-TV sports team. I was shooting video of LSU's softball game at old, now defunct Tiger Park, just needing Yvette Girouard's club to score a few runs before moving on. I kept glancing at my watch and waited for the LSU rally, knowing Coach Saban and his compelling recap of yet another exhilarating spring football practice was quickly approaching. And, the ridiculously punctual Saban was NEVER late.
The Tigers finally put a crooked number on the board and off I went to Tiger Stadium's Lawton room, where Saban frequently met with the media. It's the same spot as the coaches' famous, "It's time to move on! (you got it?)," explosion of 2002, shortly after LSU defensive back Damien James went AWOL on the coach and the team. Saban made it abundantly clear James wasn't up for discussion, immediately appearing furious at the larger than usual media gathering - "Well, I see it's only negative stuff that brings you guys out," was the angry, opening complaint. WAFB-TV, for the record, was always there, regardless. But let's "move on."
Desperate to acquire a last second parking spot, I coasted between Tiger Stadium and the LSU Athletic Building looking. And there, indeed, was an empty spot, with the sign above that read - RESERVED FOR LSU FACULTY. Hey, it was a Saturday. There was no school and all the professors were gone. This appeared to be a safe play - park the car and quickly get this news conference covered. My camera, tripod and microphone were now all set up inside. I had beaten Saban and the clock. Things were golden - or so I thought. At that moment, a young, frantic LSU sports information assistant quickly scurried into the room. "Jacques!" he exclaimed, "You're parked in Coach Saban's spot!"
Before those words were completely uttered, I had already bolted out the door. It was mad rush to move the vehicle before Hazeus arrived and I later received angry phone calls and emails from fans for “disrespecting our great, wonderful, amazing, handsome coach.” But unfortunately, it was too late. About 100 feet away rested a brand new silver Mercedes parallel parked to the curb. And the driver, as you may have guessed, was none too happy. A peeved Saban stepped out the car and slammed the door shut, resembling the force of Michael Clayton plowing over a would-be tackler.
"If I get a ticket…" Saban grumbled to LSU SID Michael Bonnette, who was at his side.
Here are two quick thoughts. First, a man making well over $1 million a year was stressing over the potential of a $20 parking fine. Second, what LSU police officer in his or her right mind would actually give Saban a ticket, much less make him pay for it? But I digress… Bonnette glared at me and shook his head in disdain, like Simon Cowell once did to American Idol contestants who had no business on the show. There I stood, William Hung.
"Coach, I'm sorry," was my off-key whimper. "I didn't know that was your spot."
"That's okay," Saban deadpanned with his eyes piercing me ever-so-quickly before turning to the ground as he marched. "We'll just tow it next time."
And with that left jab, Saban and Bonnette continued through the door and inside the facility. Like a whipped and yelping dog with nowhere better to go, I humbly followed the whipper. Saban then stepped to the podium and I was at least hoping he wouldn't roast me publicly. Of course, I had no such luck.
"I tell you what guys (oh no). If we COACH, the way you guys PARK, we're not going to win a game this year," Saban declared.
Hearty laughter from my media cohorts followed. They always chuckled when they weren't the ones Saban was chewing up and spitting out. The coach got them all, trust me. But on this occasion, Saban had belittled me again and it certainly wouldn't be the last time. I have stories, lots of painfully amusing, pre-Twitter (thank God) stories. I share this for your amusement, not because I need therapy. Roughly two years later, a paparazzi that would make Justin Bieber blush gathered not far from that same parking spot. It was a cold, dreary Christmas Day outside the LSU Athletic Building, as the football team boarded the bus for The Capitol One Bowl. Saban finally emerged from the building and we swarmed in like piranha.
"Have you made a decision, coach?" I sternly asked, finally showing some backbone, as the large mob stayed step-for-step with him.
"I'm going to address the team at 5:00 today. I think that's what they told you, isn't it?" was Saban's terse reply.
After a few more paces, he was on the bus and gone. Later that evening, I watched a satellite feed from Orlando, Florida, as Saban announced he was leaving LSU for the Miami Dolphins. It was impossible for any of the Baton Rouge media to attend the news conference on such short notice, just as he had intended it. Hearts across south Louisiana broke that Christmas evening, as the brilliant, national championship-winning coach was moving on.
Saban's parking spot was now empty. And no offense, but I was certainly coping much better than others.
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