Hurts went to Saban for advice when it was time for him to transfer, and the head coach felt Oklahoma gave him the best opportunity to impress.
When Jalen Hurts announced that he would be transferring from the University of Alabam following the 2018 college football season, three main suitors rose to the top of his list: Oklahoma, Maryland and Miami.
Though the Sooners were having the most success of the three programs at the time, the decision was not that simple. As his former head coach Nick Saban explained in an interview with the Philadelphia Eagles, there were other factors impacting his decision.
The main appeal of Maryland and Miami were the connections Hurts would already have in place if he were to transfer to one of the schools. His offensive coordinator at Alabama, Mike Locksley, was heading to the Terrapins to be the head coach. Dan Enos, his quarterback coach, was assuming the offensive coordinator role for the Hurricanes.
For either team, Hurts would have been able to play out his final collegiate season with a sense of familiarity from the start. Though that would be a plus, Saban knew there were other variables that needed to be considered. So when Hurts came to him for advice, he reminded the quarterback what really mattered.
"I said, ‘Jalen, where do they have the best players?' He said, ‘Well, I think they got the best players at Oklahoma,'" Saban explained.
That simple question began to put things in perspective for Hurts. With only one season's worth of games to play to prove his worth to the NFL, Hurts and Saban agreed that he needed to be in the best situation to succeed.
Maryland and Miami may have given him some success and he could help turn the programs around, but Oklahoma had the best environment for quarterbacks. Lincoln Riley had shown that the prior two years with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. If Hurts wanted to shine, he needed to go where that would be the easiest to do.
"I said, ‘I've always told you that quarterback is a hard position to play if you don't have good players around you,'" Saban said about the conversation he had with Hurts. "‘So if I was you, to create the most value because you got one year to do it. If you know you can be the starter there, go where they have the best players.'"
Saban's advice was not a slight to Locksley or Enos. Both were exceptional at Alabama and would have helped Hurts continue to grow. It was more about making sure a quarterback that worked hard took advantage of his last chance to showcase his talents before venturing on to the NFL.
"It's no disrespect to anyone else. The guys that worked here, they did a great job here. It's what's best for you," Saban recalled telling Hurts. "That's how you got to make this decision right now."
In the end, Hurts did make the best decision. His one season as a Sooner allowed him to put together a season in which he compiled 3,851 yards and 32 touchdowns. That was enough to convince the Eagles to grab Hurts in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
The revelation by Saban may sting for Maryland fans. If he hadn't given that advice, maybe Hurts does head to College Park. But the head coach was looking out for a player he cared for and wanted to see succeed. By giving him the full scope of the decision, he did just that.