Playing Devil's Advocate: Where Does Alabama Go if Nick Saban Leaves?
Last week, I exchanged a number of emails with a good friend, an Auburn graduate, who took exception to an article I wrote questioning the "relevancy" of Auburn's (and Tennessee's) rivalry with Alabama.
He was upset with the perceived arrogance of Alabama fans, and used his uncanny knack for statistical analysis to point out how wrong I was.
As it turned out, the article in question was proven invalid following Alabama's close win against Tennessee, and was more than a little bit off-base on my part. But it was something he mentioned in the final email that got me thinking about a scenario I didn't really want to mentally digest.
While I think it was mostly written in jest, and I am paraphrasing a bit here, but he said something along the lines of "I'm not really worried, the Notre Dame job is going to come open soon, and Saban's ego won't let him say no to the most publicized job in college football."
Of course, I laughed it off.
But something stuck with me. Tiny thoughts kept creeping into my brain, though I tried valiantly to push them away.
Saban has never stayed at one job for more than five years. He has an ego that would rival a Napoleon/Ivan Drago hybrid. He has no personal ties to Alabama. His contract has no buyout.
Now, as I lack the mental capacity to comprehend the Black Monday-type fallout from the news, if it were to come, that Nick Saban was leaving our beloved Crimson Tide, I will maintain that this is not a scenario that we have to immediately worry about.
But what if I'm wrong?
Now, this may be a bit of a stretch, but walk with me for a minute.
Let's say that Alabama's season plays out with the best possible outcome. It is not outside of the realm of possibility that Alabama runs the table and wins their 13th National Championship. All is well in Tuscaloosa. Alabama fans exist in a perpetual fog of joy, and the expectations rise to a level that is impossible to sustain.
Cut to 2010. Alabama continues to play well, but loses a couple of games to miss the SEC Championship. Meanwhile, things continue to unravel in South Bend, and in Columbus, at Ohio State. Maybe the situation in Ann Arbor is no better. Fast forward to December of 2010, and those three mega-jobs come open.
Who do you think they are going to call first?
Cue the cricket-chirping sounds of silence.
Alabama fans, still a little hungover from the '09 championship, dismiss the ever-growing rumors about Saban's interest in any of the three. LSU fans, on the other hand, watch the situation with a knowing smirk.
While the pockets at Alabama are as deep as any, the offers start to roll in.
ESPN reports that Michigan has offered a five year/$40 million package to Saban.
Fox Sports trumps that with news that Ohio State has come over the top with a six year deal worth a reported $54 million.
Days later, rumors spread that Notre Dame is ready to offer Saban $70 million for seven years, doubling the salary of the highest paid coach in college football.
I will be the first to admit that these numbers seem a little bit far-fetched. But are they? Take three of the five richest programs in college football, all desperate to win, and put them in a bidding war over the same guy.
A guy who may be the best ever at changing the fortunes of a program. Throw Alabama into the auction, and my scenario actually may have underestimated the money.
By this time, Saban has nearly matched his career-long stay at one institution, and has another National Championship on his resume. The rebuilding has long been complete.
One could say that he has nothing left to prove at Alabama, taking the program from the depths of probation-induced embarrassment to a national title and a spot as a perennial contender. He has been offered a chance to turn around another one of the Mount Rushmore-level collegiate programs.
And he gets to chose which one.
Somewhere around this time is when I begin to spearhead a fund raising effort to rent out John Cusack for a day, find him a trench coat and a giant boom box, and camp him out in Saban's yard, have him raise the giant speakers over his head, and play Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes."
Let's say Saban resists my best efforts and takes the job in South Bend.
Everyone at Alabama has been so delirious with the return to glory, that no one has bothered with a contingency plan, or to wonder why Saban insisted that his contract included no buyout clause.
Who would we turn to?
A simple, lighthearted exchange of harmless emails led me to this.
Maybe I have seen too much Dubose, Franchione, and Shula in my adult life. Maybe it's the incessant idea that all good things will eventually come to an end. Maybe my head has been so filled with all of the reasons that he won't stay that I have trouble believing that he will.
The man is the equivalent of a coaching nomad, an unbelievably good one, but a nomad all the same. As an Alabama fan, I can admit my arrogance in believing that there is no better job in college football.
But somewhere in Ann Arbor, somewhere in Columbus, and somewhere in South Bend there exists someone that feels the same about their program. Am I arrogant enough to believe that Alabama is the one magical job that can tie Saban down?
Yes, I am.
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