In college football, rumours of coaches leaving one program to go to another usually don’t start until the end of the season. After all, there are games to be played, bowl games to be invited to and a National Championship to be won. However, nothing is normal or usual when Nick Saban is part of the conversation.
The current head coach of the defending National Champions and the number one ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, is currently seeking his third straight BCS title. But that isn’t the only morsel on Saban’s dinner plate. According to the Associated Press, Saban was rumoured to have met with regents from the University of Texas about their head coaching position. Remember, Texas still has a coach in place in Mack Brown, who led the Longhorns to a National Championship in 2005. Ironically, that is the last time a team outside of the SEC were crowned National Champions.
Saban denied the rumours on his weekly radio show proclaiming: “I don’t know about any of this stuff. Terry (Saban’s wife) and I are happy at Alabama and quite frankly, I’m just too damn old to start all over someplace else, to be honest with you.”
Here lies the problem. This isn’t the first time Saban has denied rumours of him leaving a position, only to take the job he denied meeting about before. Back in 1999, Saban while at Michigan State, was widely rumoured to be headed to LSU to revive their floundering program. Saban denied those rumours throughout the 1999 season, only take the LSU job in time for the 2000 season.
Saban did breathe new life in Baton Rouge, leading the Tigers to a share of the National Championship in 2003. The next year, Saban was once again subject to rumours of him leaving, this time going pro as many reports were surfacing that Saban was set to go to the Miami Dolphins. Saban spent most of 2004 denying those rumours, but eventually did take the job in South Beach.
Saban spent two years in Miami until once again, rumours suggested he was leaving Miami. In November of 2006, Alabama had fired head coach Mike Shula after a disappointing season in Tuscaloosa. Many reports surfaced that Saban was at the top of Alabama’s wish list and were ready to make a considerable offer to the Saban camp. With the Dolphins out of the playoff race, reporters used the Alabama rumour has fodder for their newspaper stories and they dogged Saban throughout his news conferences down the stretch. Saban was in a constant state of denial to the point that you think he was in a river in Egypt. To quote Saban back in December in 2006: “I guess I have to say it. I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.” So what happened? In January of 2007, Saban accepted the position of head coach at Alabama.
So there is a history of Saban and his vagabond ways. Let’s also say Saban is interested in going to Austin. What will it take? Money and lots of it! And if a bidding war ensues between Alabama and Texas over Saban’s services, the possibility of Saban leaving Alabama will be a fascinating soap opera.
The current endowment fund at Texas is $6 billion, compared to Alabama’s endowment fund which is $631 million. The Texas athletic department isn’t poor either. According to USA Today, revenues for the athletic department were an astounding $163.3 million while operating expenses were $138.3 million. In other words, the Texas athletic department brings in a profit of $25 million.
On the flip side, there is no doubt that football is the driving force at the University of Alabama. The football program alone recorded $76,801,800 in revenues, while expenses totalled $31,580,059. Do the math and the profit margin is $45,221,741 for the football program alone. The athletic department at Alabama recorded a profit of $31.6 million in 2010-11. Those profits are projected to be higher in the next couple of years, thanks to Saban and the football team.
Now, if Saban were to listen to Texas, how much money would it take to entice him to leave Alabama? For starters, Saban would become the first $10 million man in college football, if a bidding war ensues. The bigger question is, would Texas dip into their massive endowment fund to lure Saban? Football is a religion in Texas, (same can be said in Alabama) and if boosters and alumni put enough pressure on the university, Texas could proceed to take a little bit out of the monster cookie jar to get their man.
Here’s another reason why Saban could leave for Texas. Pride. Even though the Longhorns don’t have the championship drought that other schools have, (I’m looking at you Notre Dame) fans of Texas demand nothing less than a National Championship. Since 2005, the Longhorns have only won a single conference title which was in 2009. (Ironically, Texas lost to Alabama in the BCS title game that year.) Appearances in the Holiday Bowl or Alamo Bowl are unacceptable in Austin. Even worse for Texas was in 2011, when a 5-7 record left Texas out of the bowl action altogether.
As mentioned earlier Texas was the last non-SEC team to hoist the glittering football in 2005. (I have no idea what else to call that trophy. If anyone has a better name for the BCS trophy, please put in your suggestions.) If Alabama or another SEC team (LSU, Georgia) were to win the National Championship again this season, Saban just might decide to go to Austin. It would be delicious irony if Saban were to leave for Texas and the Longhorns to end the SEC dominance.
Here’s another possibility. Could Saban be the way in for Texas to join the SEC? Remember the SEC asked the Longhorns to join the elite conference only to have Texas turn them down. Since then, there have been regrets coming from Austin on their refusal to join the SEC. As it stands right now, Texas stands no chance in being asked into the SEC while their bitter in-state rivals, Texas A&M are enjoying record revenues and success in the SEC. If Saban were to go to Texas, the SEC may change their minds but admittedly this is a long shot.
Where does this leave Mack Brown? The current head coach of Texas, (and the doppelgänger of former US president George W. Bush) is feeling the heat from the Longhorns faithful. Two bad losses to BYU and Ole Miss haven’t helped Brown’s cause. Granted, Texas did open Big 12 play with a solid win over nemesis Kansas State, but that hasn’t quelled Brown’s critics. Again, Texas boosters want BCS titles, not just wins over Kansas State. Brown has been with Texas since 1998, compiling a 238-119-1 record during that span. Brown is seen as a players coach, who takes more of the friendly uncle approach, rather than the stern disciplinarian. Some Texas fans have been vocal of their complaints, saying the atmosphere in the Texas locker room has been too relaxed, comparing it to a country club. There is a significant chunk of Longhorn fans who want a stern taskmaster to run the show and there is no sterner taskmaster than Saban.
If Brown is let go, it doesn’t mean his coaching career is over. Jobs will open up. USC, Colorado, Nebraska, and perhaps Georgia could all have job openings by seasons’ end. Brown won’t be a candidate for all the openings, but he will get long looks from schools. (Don’t be surprised if Brown goes to Nebraska, if he’s let go by Texas.)
In the end, the question still remains. Does Saban leave Alabama for Texas? To be honest, I’m leaning towards no. Saban is a legendary figure in Alabama and has a lifetime pass in the state. Only the legendary Bear Bryant is held in higher regard in the state than Saban. (Auburn excluded) Yes, Texas has money and tradition but so does Alabama. Unless Texas makes an offer that is out of this world, Saban will probably stay at Alabama. But you never know in the crazy world of college football, and I’ve been wrong before. Stay tuned for the next continuing episode of Nick Saban’s coaching carousel.
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