Will Saban return to the NFL?

There will always be chatter about Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban’s future. When you are a winner, people care (see Urban Meyer.) Nobody cares about Gene Chizik at Auburn, and the only conversation about LSU’s Les Miles is how soon the LSU Tigers will be able to dump him.

This means the question of Nick Saban and the NFL is raised on a regular basis. The national championship has amplified it.

So, will Nick Saban return to the NFL? Xtrapointfootball.com says yes. According to Bob Bearden, “The moment Saban feels the Crimson Tide may not have a shot to vie for the National Championship, expect Saban to embark on another stint in the NFL to take care of unfinished business.”

But what does Nick Saban say about it? He told the Sporting News, “You know, with all that we’ve been through and all that we’ve done … I think we’re really satisfied having the opportunity to be in that kind of university-spirit, community setting that we’re in right now. I think at this stage we’re more interested in happiness and feeling self-fulfilled with how we affect the community, give back to the community, help the players and the program, than really thinking about doing something different professionally.”

But is there something that would make Nick Saban return to the NFL?

Xtrapointfootball.com suggests ego. They write, “If you know anything about Saban, you know that he has an ego the size of Texas. He hears all the talk about how he is one of the greatest college coaches in history but can’t be successful in the NFL. What do you think is going through his mind when he hears that?”

Saban has an ego the size of Texas?

Probably. Most football coaches do. I’ve seen in at every level and that includes high school. But the question isn’t Saban’s ego, but whether ego would override his experience, or more precisely, would the need to be viewed as a winner in the NFL trump his better judgment.

While the NFL is a fun game, it is organized around one principle—socialism. The draft rewards failure. College football’s recruiting seems more suited to Saban’s relentless desire to win both on the field and in the personnel game. He enjoys recruiting. Does anyone think he enjoyed the draft? Or looking at free agents?

The personnel game is different in college football and the NFL. The NFL depends almost completely on one position—quarterback. If you miss on the quarterback then you are in trouble.

Saban addressed some of that in the same Sporting News interview. “We had an opportunity to get a quarterback in Drew Brees or Daunte Culpepper and probably missed out on the physical well-being of those two players; we took the guy that we felt was more healthy, and he wasn’t healthy. No disrespect to him; he did the best he could, Daunte Culpepper. Drew Brees didn’t have any problems and ended up having a great career. Had that been different, I think we’d have made our team a lot better. We didn’t have a quarterback the second year, and it affected our ability to be successful. But we made improvements as a team; we made improvements on defense.”

But those improvements as a team were secondary to the failure at quarterback. As a coach that must be the most frustrating feeling—to know that the process is working, but the difficulty in landing a top quarterback prevents you from competing. In other words, you need a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning to compete against a Brady or a Manning. How often do you get the chance to land a quarterback of that caliber? When you do get a chance like with Brees, it comes with significant risk.

College recruiting provides less risk and more reward. You can take a chance on a Star Jackson and know that the next year another quarterback will be available. Just look at what Alabama’s quarterback recruiting has done. AJ McCarron recruited one year. The year after a quarterback like Phillip Sims joined the Crimson Tide. Will those quarterbacks pan out? It doesn’t matter as much because you can recruit another four or five-star quaterback next year.

Would Saban return to the NFL to a team without a quality quarterback? Based on his experience, it would be highly doubtful. And how many teams have a settled quarterback and need a coach?

Another question that would confront Saban’s return to the NFL would be the subject of control. Saban had total control in Miami. Would another owner be likely to hand Saban control after the issues in Miami? A desperate owner might, but desperate is not a situation that Saban would covet. Desperate usually means poor ownership. A good situation would likely mean an active ownership that knows what it is doing. This would likely mean less control. He would surrender the control he wields at Alabama to enter a realm where he would have less power. That doesn’t sound like something Nick Saban would do.

And that is something you must understand in evaluating the talk of Nick Saban and the NFL. It might sound good talking about Saban and the NFL, but the situation would need to be perfect and he would need to ignore his own experience. Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely? Not based on Saban’s personality and history. Things would need to change at Alabama for the NFL to be a real threat; it would need to be real change and not just under-performance like xtrapointfootball.com suggested.