Tuscaloosa, Ala. — Tua Tagovailoa and Alabama coach Nick Saban got some news Monday about the quarterback’s devastating season-ending hip injury that has cast an uncertain cloud over his football future.
Team surgeon Dr. Lyle Cain said Tagovailoa underwent successful surgery in Houston and the prognosis was “excellent” for the 21-year-old, who is expected to make a full recovery — though Cain did not specify a timeline.
It was probably the best possible news Tagovailoa could have received after his injury Saturday.
The 2018 Heisman Trophy runner-up, Tagovailoa emerged as a likely high draft pick —possibly No. 1 overall — with “Tankfortua” becoming a popular Twitter hashtag among NFL fans of downtrodden teams.
If Tagovailoa does decide to enter the NFL Draft, it’s unclear how the injury will impact his draft stock.
Saban isn’t publicly speculating on Tagovailoa’s future prospects.
“Our concern is about him getting healthy,” the coach said. “This is going to be a long recovery for him, but we fully expect a full recovery. No one’s really speculating or talking about what’s best for him to do in the future. My only concern is that he can do what’s best for him in his future. I don’t know if right now’s the time to be thinking about that, when you’re thinking about the guy’s health and well-being and recovery.”
Saban pointed out that New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley also dislocated a hip in the national championship game to end the 2011 season.
“And he’s come back and had a very successful career,” the coach said. “That’s basically all I can tell you about it.”
Dr. Michael Stover, an orthopedic surgeon at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, said he has performed similar surgeries on high school athletes and one pro football player, an offensive lineman. He said there’s not enough data to project a timetable on a skill player like Tagovailoa, but he was cautiously optimistic.
“He has a chance to return to sports,” Stover said. “I would be hesitant to say at what level.”
Tagovailoa passed for 7,442 yards and a school-record 87 touchdowns despite less than two full seasons as starter. He presided over a remarkable transformation in Alabama’s once-staid offense. A five-star recruit from Hawaii, he capped his freshman season by coming off the bench to lead a second-half comeback win over Georgia in the national championship game, throwing the winning touchdown in overtime.
SEC Network analyst and former Tide quarterback Greg McElroy believes Tagovailoa has two things in his favor: medical advances and a positive attitude.
“You are in a much better position today in 2019 to come back from a catastrophic injury than at any other point in history,” McElroy said. He cites former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, another coveted NFL prospect who recovered from a potentially career-ending knee injury and wound up being a second-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2016. In August, Smith received a $64 million, five-year extension.
“… So much about overcoming an injury is about your attitude, and if there’s one thing I know about Tua, he’s going to have a remarkably positive attitude in the approach to the rehab and everything that’s going to go along with it.”
Positive attitude is one thing people close to Tagovailoa say he has plenty of.
Saban couldn’t say enough about this quarterback’s spirit. The coach said Tagovailoa is a “fabulous person” and one of the four or five players he has cared the most for personally.
Saban said he was feeling down about the injury, but got a pick-me-up from the injured QB.
“I feel bad. I’m hurting,” Saban said Monday. “So I called him on Saturday night to cheer him up and he cheered me up. I called him last night because I’d been sitting in that room for 10 hours (Sunday) watching film. I called him to cheer him up and he cheers me up.
“This is a guy that has great spirit. He’s very positive about just about everything he does and the effect that he has on other people.”
The Alabama coach and his fifth-ranked Crimson Tide have been coping with the loss of Tagovailoa to the season-ending hip injury since Saturday afternoon. Tagovailoa was injured while being dragged down by two Mississippi State defenders late in the first half with Alabama up 35-7.
It was a devastating blow to a team that still harbors national championship ambitions, though they’re almost certainly diminished now.
Mac Jones is taking over Alabama’s offense starting Saturday against Western Carolina. Next up is a visit to No. 16 Auburn. Alabama is fifth in the College Football Playoff rankings, with the latest updates set to be released on Tuesday.
But most of the focus Monday was on Tagovailoa’s health.
Alabama right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. visited with Tagovailoa before he was flown to Houston.
“I know it’s something terrible for anybody to go through, it’s definitely tough on your mental, but I feel like he’s a strong enough person that could come out of this positive and just recover,” Willis said.
Tagovailoa received visits from teammates and calls of support, including from coach Gus Malzahn of rival Auburn. He shared social media shout-outs from athletes like Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and ex-NFL and Alabama running back Shaun Alexander.
“The emotional impact just around the entire sport was emotionally devastating,” said ESPN’s Laura Rutledge. “Even on Saturday when it happened, I talked to a few college football coaches who said they were so upset even hearing the news.
“One coach told me college football is just not the same without him. I think you just see the respect that he has and how much fun people really do have watching him play. I just think it’s a credit to how he’s handled himself for people to feel that way.”