Alabama coach Nick Saban has maintained a strong relationship with Rolando McClain ever since the middle linebacker played for the Crimson Tide as a consensus All-American and Butkus Award winner.
Saban has remained in touch with the troubled Ravens linebacker, including a conversation last week prior to his decision to retire from the NFL and several talks over the past month.
Saban is supportive of McClain opting to tend to his legal problems before deciding whether he'll resume his football career.
“Ro did a great job for us,” Saban told Alabama reporters during an appearance in Atlanta. “I’ve had a real close relationship with him, and we’ve talked about it a couple of times. I think Ro is just in a place where he doesn’t think he can do his best.
“I think he’s a prideful guy, and he’d like to get things straightened out personally and then decide whether he wants to go on and play football or not.”
The Ravens have placed McClain, who's facing disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges in his hometown of Decatur, Ala., on the reserve-retired list and can activate him at any time. He's signed to a one-year, $700,000 contract that includes no guaranteed money and has incentives that can boost the total value of the deal to $1.1 million.
Saban said he believes it's better that McClain step away from the NFL at this time rather than possibly give a half-hearted, distracted effort. McClain met with general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh to discuss expectations for him on and off the field prior to signing his contract in April, but he never reported for the voluntary offseason conditioning program and hasn't practiced with the Ravens. The Super Bowl champions have their first organized team activity this week.
“For the Ravens, Ro’s being fair to them,” said Saban, adding that he hasn't spoken to McClain since he informed the Ravens of his intentions to retire. “What he’s saying is that he’s not ready to play rather than them having to release him, where someone else can claim him. They can retain his rights.
“I think he likes the Ravens organization. I think he likes John, I think he likes Ozzie. He appreciates the fact that they gave him an opportunity, so I think he’s doing the right thing.”
McClain, who has a July 9 court date, indicated in a statement Thursday that he's not closing the door on a potential return to the Ravens.
"Clearly, my decision to retire has raised some questions," McClain said in a statement from his agent, Pat Dye Jr., issued to media outlets. "Quite simply, I love football, but I have decided at this time it is in my best interest to focus on getting my personal life together. Beyond that, I'm not sure what the future holds for me, including football.
"This was entirely my decision and the Ravens have been very supportive during this process. I am very grateful for the opportunity they gave me and wish them the best of luck in the future. God willing, maybe I'll play for them one day."
McClain, 23, is a 2010 Oakland Raiders first-round draft pick selected eighth overall. However, the 6-foot-4, 258-pounder has consistently found trouble off the field and been inconsistent on the field with 274 career tackles and 6 1/2 sacks with one interception and a forced fumble in 41 career games.
Saban expressed hope that McClain will go back to school to complete his education.
"I just hope he comes back and finishes his degree," Saban said. "And you know if he decides to do something else there will be something else he's qualified to do if he wants to do something else."
Saban said he make it a point of emphasis to have an active role in his former players' lives.
"I like to stay in touch with the players," Saban said. "I have a job to do with the guys we have on our team right now, which is a challenging enough job in and of itself. But all the players know I’m there for them, if they need help or if they need anything. I’m always happy to hear from them and do anything I can or we can to help them as an institution or me personally.”