By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Dec. 11, 2012
The college football regular season is in the past, meaning it’s time to advance to the next phase of the season: Keeping track of all Nick Saban-related employment rumors.
From the time Saban left LSU onward, his employment status has been watched like the depository at Fort Knox. Fans of several NFL teams and a plethora of schools dissect every word, every nuance, every facial expression. Journalists split into different camps, some following his every move like he was a Teen Beat centerfold, while others manipulate the story to fit their own employers’ thirst for readership – and its kissing cousin, advertising dollars.
This time around, there have been rumors that Nick Saban will head to Texas to take over for Mack Brown – did you know you’d been fired yet, Mack? – or to Cleveland resurrect a historic but relatively small-market Browns NFL team. Let’s talk about the Texas rumor first, as it’s the easiest to address.
The University of Texas is a fine institution, but the phrase “Everything’s bigger in Texas” also seems to extend to Longhorn fans’ opinion of their own program, and their estimation of their school’s bank account, especially relative to what goes on in a vault in Tuscaloosa. The common rumor seems to go like this: “Once them oil barons get on board, nobody can bid with Texas.”
Actually, Alabama can. Alabama can bid with anyone, and the Browns are included in that group, as are the Dallas Cowboys and just about everyone else short of Exxon-Mobil itself. For the hopeful Texas fan out there, The University of Alabama’s athletic department runs in the black to the tune of double-digit (or more) millions per year, so much so that it is completely self-sufficient and makes donations make to the school’s academic programs annually. If Alabama needed to, it could perform the financial equivalent of drinking the Longhorns under the table.
The real question for Texas – or any other university – is whether money motivates Nick Saban. If money does motivate Saban, Alabama has it, and Alabama will spend it. Texas – or anyone else – would have to provide Saban with a challenge he cannot battle in Tuscaloosa, and it’s hard to imagine any non-SEC school laying out a more challenging road than what SEC teams face each year on the quest for the national championship. As for fellow SEC institutions, the politics of jumping directly from Alabama to another SEC school without a NFL stopover in between makes the probability very remote.
In regards to Cleveland, that’s a story that sprung from two sources: a news story identifying Saban as a possible target for a general manager candidate who hasn’t been hired yet, to replace a coach that hasn’t been fired yet; and a third-angle take on a comment Terry Saban made in an interview this week, where she noted – correctly – that coaches often get the greatest joy from helping a team first achieve success, rather than trying to repeat it constantly.
As a result, Alabama fans on numerous sites have clamored for Nick Saban to address these rumors and proclaim he’ll be Alabama’s coach ad infinitum. There’s just one problem with such a request…
… it won’t matter.
Partly, of course, because Saban himself made one memorable stumble in the process of leaving the Miami Dolphins and taking over at Alabama. He answered a reporter’s question by saying he wasn’t going to Alabama, and then he did it anyway.
Ignore if you will whether Saban was speaking literally about that particular day or week. He said he wasn’t going, then later did, and now, any public pronouncement of loyalty to Alabama will be met with hoots and catcalls from the media, particularly those with addresses in Dade or Broward counties, Florida.
If Saban says he’s staying at Alabama, some fans won’t believe it, because some media won’t let them believe it. This is the perfect story for a writer, site, television network or other entity who is trying to drive interest to his, her or its publication. It writes itself, it plays off fears of abandonment, and no matter what Saban says, it rewrites itself tomorrow.
As such, this writer hopes Saban doesn’t address it. What’s the point? If Nick Saban were to leave Alabama at this point, it wouldn’t be because of money or concern over his job. It would be because he wanted to, because his heart of hearts was elsewhere, either in a specific geographic location or in the pursuit of a challenge yet unattempted. There is no amount of money, begging, praying or fretting that would dissuade Saban from choosing such a path.
And, he doesn’t need to wallow in the mud with those media outlets who thrive on such drama. Not all reporters are in this group, not even a majority. But the steady march of mainstream media down the path first blazed by the National Enquirer and similar publications is a regrettable one, and Saban shouldn’t feel obligated to pick up an instrument and play in that band.
At some point, Nick Saban will leave. Terry Saban says Alabama is the Sabans’ final stop. I’m inclined to believe her, with one caveat: It would not be a surprise in the least to see Nick Saban retire from college coaching one day, move to Lake Burton, Ga., as he has threatened to do on numerous occasions, and coach the local high school team for free, just to have something to do. The thought of Nick Saban washing kids’ uniforms in a plastic sink in the back of a Quonset hut is at first ridiculous, but becomes more apropos with each review.
When Saban does leave, Alabama will be at a major crossroads. The smart money – no pun intended, Kirby Smart – is for Alabama to again undertake a national search, then turn to current assistants if no match can be found. But the Alabama job is unique, and is one of the few jobs in the country that can attract not only up-and-comers, but coaches that have recently taken other jobs, NFL coaches, and retired coaches who left their previous assignments with impressive resumes.
Is it likely to happen this year? No. Is that a guarantee? No. No one can do that, not even Nick Saban himself – thanks to the specifics of his Miami exit – and he knows this. The media won’t let him, and the fans won’t let themselves.
It is possible that, like Alexander the Great, Nick Saban will one day find himself with no worlds left to conquer. What Alabama should do at that point is celebrate what he accomplished in his time in Tuscaloosa, put an extra coat of wax on his statue and move on much more quickly than it did in the years – decades – following the departure of Paul Bryant.
But this is not meant to rush the relocation process along – something Alabama’s rivals are desperately clinging to at the moment, because for many of them, that will be the only way they get out from under Alabama’s considerable thumb.
Besides, if challenge is what drives Nick Saban, there is this one, scrawled inside a certain football bus of the high school alma mater of a certain columnist: “It is easier to become a champion, than to stay a champion.”
How could Saban pass up such a challenge?