TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban isn't in a rush to figure out who his starting quarterback will be in 2018. He said both Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa welcome the competition as the defending national champion Crimson Tide prepare to start spring practice in two weeks.
"The most important thing is to play the best guy, and if both guys can play winning football, it's not out of the question that we'll find a role for both guys in fairness to both guys," Saban told ESPN on Thursday. "I don't know that there's any more to it than that."
Tagovailoa came off the bench as a true freshman last season to help Alabama erase a 13-0 halftime deficit and defeat Georgia 26-23 in overtime to win the Crimson Tide's fifth national championship in the past nine years. Tagovailoa threw three touchdown passes in the second half and overtime, including the game-winning 42-yard strike to DeVonta Smith on the final play of the game.
Hurts, who is 26-2 as Alabama's starter in his first two seasons, struggled at times to throw the football consistently last season. He was just 3-of-8 for 21 yards in the first half against Georgia before giving way to Tagovailoa.
"The most important thing is to play the best guy, and if both guys can play winning football, it's not out of the question that we'll find a role for both."Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Saban said he has met with both quarterbacks and assured them that there haven't been any predetermined decisions going into the spring.
"All I've told both players is that they're both going to have the opportunity to compete, and that's all any competitor ever wants," Saban said. "We've won with both, and the kids on our team respect both guys."
Making the quarterback battle even more intriguing is that the Tide will have a new playcaller on offense, Mike Locksley, and a new quarterbacks coach, Dan Enos. Locksley is entering his third season on Alabama's staff and has a good relationship with both quarterbacks.
"We like the talent we have around the quarterbacks, and I'm excited to see our offense grow under Mike and Dan," Saban said. "There will be new challenges, but those guys also bring different ideas and a different way of doing things, and with younger quarterbacks, you can't do enough teaching."
Saban said he pulled Hurts aside after the championship game to reassure him that he would remain a very important part of the Alabama program, regardless of how the quarterback situation shakes out. Hurts will be a junior in 2018.
"I told him, 'We would have never gotten here without you, and even though it wasn't your time [in the championship game] and we needed Tua to give us a spark, that should not be anything but a learning experience for you in terms of what you have to do to be a more consistent player in the future,'" Saban recounted.
While Hurts wasn't the most polished passer a year ago, he still finished with 17 touchdown passes and just one interception and added eight rushing touchdowns thanks to his ability to create and put pressure on defenses with his legs.
As for Tagovailoa, Saban said the Crimson Tide went into the College Football Playoff fully expecting to play him if they needed a spark in the passing game. In fact, prior to the team leaving for New Orleans to face Clemson, Tagovailoa received first-team reps for a few days while Hurts was sick, and the offense had some of its best practices.
"We knew we had two guys ready to go," Saban said.
Some will suggest the Crimson Tide are heading toward a major quarterback controversy, but Saban doesn't see it that way. He would much rather have two quarterbacks who have proven they can win on a big stage as opposed to having one and then nobody else.
"We're always looking to create competition on the practice field, and it shouldn't be any different at quarterback," Saban said.