Why It's Inevitable That Nick Saban Will Bolt for the NFL Like Pete Carroll

Bryan KellySenior Analyst IJanuary 12, 2010

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 07:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide talks to reporters on the field after winning the Citi BCS National Championship game over the Texas Longhorns at the Rose Bowl on January 7, 2010 in Pasadena, California. The Crimson Tide defeated the Longhorns 37-21.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Pete Carroll defected to the Seattle Seahawks in search of a "challenge ."

Yet many sportswriters have been quick to note that the USC football program is about to enter its most challenging period.

The weight of NCAA sanctions hangs heavy over the Trojans. Subpoenas are flying, and a hearing before the committee in February is fast approaching.

The team lost more than two games in a season for the first time in eight years, by point totals previously unthinkable.

But what people don't understand is that Carroll has already accomplished all that he can accomplish at the college level. He's won one championship, got bilked out of another, and was prevented, unjustly, from playing for two or three more because of the arbitrary nature of the BCS.

More importantly, Carroll has tasted what it was like to coach in the NFL, where the playoff rules are cut-and-dry, and the opportunity to play for championships is not left up to computers and unhealthy biases.

Though the reasoning behind his desire to return is alien to me (I consider college to be the far more exciting and pure of the two sports), the NFL is, and always will be, where the big boys play.

That alone is why Pete Carroll left USC—and that's why Nick Saban leaving Alabama for the NFL is inevitable and could happen as soon as next year.

I'm not going to call Saban a snake, Alabama fans, so bite your tongues. On the contrary, I think Saban is the best coach in college football to have at any program.

He has singlehandedly rejuvenated Alabama's stock in college football. The Tide were a sleeping giant, pelted with pesky recruiting violations, set back by coaching slip-ups, and marked by mediocrity (or worse) for most of the late '90s and aughts.

But Saban's efforts have reawakened the Tide's snoozing tree. The roots that run so deep; the pride that fanbase takes in its team; the appeal the Crimson has to its native sons; all of these are back at full strength.

Alabama football goes as far back as the beginning of the sport in the South. Saban's tenure has both reaffirmed that place in history and projected it forward to the next decade, after too many years of unnecessary doubt.

So, Bama fans, do not mourn when he inevitably departs for the NFL. What he's done for Alabama is what he's done for every college football program he's touched.

He led Michigan State to its most successful seasons since Duffy Daugherty. Once he left, the Spartans were too caught up in the drama of his departure to sustain the spirit he infused. Instead, a series of poor coaching hires trounced any momentum they had, and Mark Dantonio is only now pulling the Spartans from the grave they themselves dug. Trust me; that's Sparty's way.

He did the same for LSU. The Tigers won the national championship in 2003 with Saban as coach and won it again with the senior class he recruited. Anyone who follows my writing knows I think Les Miles is incompetent on a good day. In my mind, the Tigs' 2007 championship run owed as much to the efforts of the Sabanator as to the daring of the Lesticles.

When he leaves, Alabama will be in the same position as LSU and Michigan State were—or better, considering their deep roots. Current defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will be the Tide's head coach, with multiple top-tier recruiting classes heavy on defensive talent at his disposal.

The Tide will be fine; nothing to worry about; just another national championship run in the works at any given time.

And Saban? Saban will still be chasing that NFL dream, the one Bill Belichick infused him with while Saban was a defensive coordinator at Cleveland.

Just because Saban is succeeding in the college game does not mean it sates him. To Saban, coaching college football is like playing a video game on intermediate. After a while, you just get tired of winning. You yearn for the next challenge, where the opponents are smarter, where the preparation becomes more minute.

There are some coaches for whom this is not true. Rich Rodriguez, Urban Meyer, Mack Brown, Jim Tressel, and Bobby Bowden were or are best suited for college football and will never, ever leave for the pros. Reinventing the x's and o's of the game while raising young men and coaching them through life is challenge enough.

But to Carroll, to Saban, to any coach that's tasted a small measure of success (or a large measure of failure) at the pro level, the NFL will always be the terminal position.

The belief that they're playing a child's game haunts them. In their nightmares, they melt as many national championship trophies as they can and still don't get enough material to forge a Super Bowl ring.

So don't douse Saban in Gatorade; don't expect him to nuzzle noses with his players; don't put any stock in him adopting what sounds like an Alabama drawl; don't expect him to call the Tide his "dream job" while rumors of his defection blow up on Twitter next year.

And please, don't insult the man with a pay raise. Money, kindness, tradition all mean little when stacked up against what drives him most.

Saban is not a kind man, and he's not a father figure. He's a professional football coach, lounging at the lower tiers, biding his time, building his résumé, until he's fit to strike again at the pro level.

The NFL is where he's failed—and if there's one thing Nick Saban will not tolerate, it's his own failure.


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