Well, the season has been played, the awards been given, and the heralded Heisman has been assigned to a new recipient. It’s not quite the silly season…the period between the end of recruiting and the beginning of fall camp. But it’s close.
This time of year doesn’t really have a name. It’s the time between the last of the regular season games and award hooplah and the first bowl game. Radio and television talk shows have literally hours of show to fill without games to talk about. Sales staffs have promised advertisers listenership in return for their advertising dollar.
So what’s Mike and Mike and the like to do? Make up stuff at worst, run with loosely knitted speculation at best.
And in recent days, that’s what we’ve gotten.
Message boards in this state have been dominated by speculation that Nick Saban is leaving the Crimson Tide for the Cleveland Browns…or some other NFL team…that doesn’t currently have an opening.
What’s worse, a Boston columnist (who hasn’t so much as shaken hands with Nick Saban) took a recent radio interview with the coach’s wife to a fantastical extreme.
By now you’ve heard the story. That Terry Saban said winning has become more of a relief than a joy.
Nevermind that the two radio personalities conducting the interview…you know, actually interacting with Mrs. Saban…drew zero conclusions about the coach’s intentions of flying the coop. In fact, from the very interview Birmingham 97.3’s Scott Griffin and Kevin Scarbinsky concluded just the drastic opposite.
Still, it’s not these who are closest to the nucleus of the story with the loudest voice. It’s some yahoo in New England. And an ESPN radio personality whose son played for the Fighting Irish.
You can call that a conspiracy theory. I just call it simple fact.
Speaking of facts, the fact is, when you have a coach of Nick Saban’s caliber, there is going to be interest. I mean, like, every year.
There isn’t a single team in America, pro or amatuer, that wouldn’t take the man in with open arms.
In fact, I would wager all of my internal organs that if Nick Saban drove his Mercedes down to Lee County, arriving at Jay Jacobs’ home tonight, Gus Malzahn wouldn’t have a job in the morning.
Nick Saban was a wanted man before he resurrected Alabama’s proud football program from the ashes. Now that he’s made it a dominant power, contending for its third crystal trophy in four years, he’s downright irresistable. If you have an opening, or think you’re going to, you’re going to float a test balloon his way.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
I’ll put it like this. I clearly remember being 19 and going to the beach for the first time with a new girlfriend. She was striking, fully clothed. But my gosh, in a bikini it was unbearable. I had had good-looking girlfriends before, but not like this. What was even more unbearable was the attention she immediately got from every hairy-legged boy within eyesight of her. And I mean, with me sitting right next to her. It got old fast.
Then I remember my dad speaking words of wisdom to me. You don’t want to be with somebody nobody wants. And if you are going to be with somebody like that, you better get used to it. If she wants to be with you too, enjoy the ride. If not, life will go on.
Now over twenty years later, that girl is still with me…and it has been a fun ride.
There’s a reason why Nick Saban is a hot commodity, but being a hot commodity doesn’t mean he is leaving for another job. There will come a day when this ride will be over, at least with Saban at the helm. But most, including yours truly, believe that day will come at the hands of retirement, not another job.
1.) Nick Saban doesn’t want to coach in the NFL again. Grant Guffin, the producer of “Nick Saban: Gamechanger,” got to know Saban better than most. His project gave him two months of unlimited access to him. And when I say unlimited, about the only place Saban didn’t permit he and co-producer Trey Reynolds to go with him was to the shower.
Guffin is also a friend, and when wrapping up the project he shared at length with me about his experience. The most telling point of this time was when he indicated that Nick and Terry had disdain for the pro game. Coach Saban said on more than one occasion to recruits, boosters and even Guffin himself “The biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my coaching career was going to the NFL.”
That doesn’t sound like a person wanting to take an NFL job.
2.) Nick Saban is now 61. A basic study of human development provides insight into the different seasons of life, and our psychological approaches and rationale in relation to those seasons.
When you’re in your sixties, you do either one of two things. You either (a.) reflect on your life with approval, staying the course and digging in for the final years before entering your golden years, or (b.) you look back on your life with regret, scurrying to make things right while you still can.
It’s hard to imagine anyone in Saban’s shoes not looking back on his life with satisfaction that his life has meant something. And assuming point #1 is correct, the man has nothing to regret and/or make right.
3.) At 61, Alabama is the first stop in his coaching career where Nick Saban has things 100% like he likes them. He has built…or rebuilt…a dynasty at maybe the most difficult place to do so. He has total control over every aspect of the Tide’s football operations.
That isn’t and won’t be the case in the NFL. You’re a hired hand, and if recruiting is your edge on the competition, you just threw it out the window. Bama was the first place Nick Saban ever achieved back-to-back 10+ win seasons. In fact, this year he’ll shelve his fifth in a row. If #2 is correct, why would you start over?
4.) Saban doesn’t want to coach anywhere that much longer. Guffin also indicated that he heard Saban on more than one occasion say he didn’t want to be another Bobby Bowden (coaching into his 80’s). So why would a man now in his sixties looking at retirement in a few years want to end his career on a project that will likely fail?
The Cleveland Browns are the Kentucky Wildcats (football’s version) of the NFL. It would take years to get the Browns to be competitive, changing the bad habits of grown men stuck in their ways who make more money than you do. Again, see #1.
5.) Terry Saban is happy in Tuscaloosa. One of the questions I wanted answered was about his relationship with Terry. Long before all the specials (this was 2010) about their relationship, Grant and his film partner Trey got to go inside the Saban’s lives together. Terry made them turkey sandwiches before filming a segment at their home on Lake Burton.
“They clearly love each other,” Guffin told me. “They are a team. Nick takes care of their livelihood, Terry takes care of their life.”
And everything we hear about Nick Saban being in control everywhere but at home? Well, he’s not lying. If Terry Saban is happy in Tuscaloosa after a lifetime of moving every five years (remember, ‘Bama is Saban’s longest head coaching stop in his career with six years and counting), then they’re staying in Tuscaloosa. And ironically, the very radio interview that fueled the Bostonian article and other speculation also yielded unquestionable proof that Terry Saban is extremely happy to call Tuscaloosa, Alabama home.
6.) NFL money is real. But Alabama money is too. It’s been said, how much is enough? For the common man, $6 Million a year is unfathomable. But if Saban wants $10 Million to stay at Bama, do you know what he’ll get?
I would argue that the man is underpaid as it is. Years ago I asked Linda Carper, owner of several Bama Fever stores in Alabama what business is like when the Tide is high and what it’s like when they’re down. When Bama is winning, it’s like Christmas all year.
The Crimson Tide football program is a money-filled black (or should I say, green) hole right now. It’s hard to imagine a better time in history to sell retail Alabama clothing and memorabilia. And remember, if officially licensed, guess who gets a nice cut of each sale?
In the midst of a recession, Bama built, completed and filled a 101,000+ seat stadium with crazy Bama fans willing to throw their last dollar at seeing another Alabama win.
The Alabama football program is healthy, and can pay whatever Jimmy Sexton tells them they need to ante up on to keep their head coach. If it even comes to that. Of course, I’m just speculating.
But that’s the point. We all are just speculating. Because we’re in the time of year when you do so.
Alabama fatigue has reached levels nobody thought possible seven years ago. And every talking head not from the SEC, or specifically, Alabama, wants change. And what fills airwaves…attracting listeners and advertising dollars…like creating and fueling speculation about college football’s biggest adversary?
There will come a day when Nick Saban hangs it up in Tuscaloosa. And when it does, like dad told me about a pretty blonde thing years ago, life will still go on. I just don’t believe that day is yet here.
Like my bride, we’ll see. But just as she found out, sometimes you have it pretty good right where you are. If what I hear is true, the Sabans feel exactly the same way.