What to Take from New Details of Nick Saban's Flirtation with Texas

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJuly 27, 2015

USA Today

For about the entire calendar year during the 2012-13 offseason, there was plenty of smoke surrounding the idea of Alabama head coach Nick Saban taking over at Texas for former Longhorn head coach Mack Brown. It turns out there was a little bit of fire, too.

Well, maybe a spark.

That spark, according to Monte Burke, author of the unauthorized book Saban: The Making of a Coach (via the New York Times), was generated by Saban himself.

According to Burke's article, which was adapted from the book, a friend of Saban's agent, Jimmy Sexton, reached out to University of Texas regent Wallace Hall prior to the Crimson Tide's BCS National Championship Game victory over Notre Dame. Sexton's friend told Hall that Saban was interested in becoming the coach at Texas, despite the fact that Brown was already in place as the Longhorns' head coach.

What transpired next is a blueprint in coaching search "ethics" and a lesson in how to create plausible deniability for coaches who don't want it to be known that they're actively searching for a job. 

Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Alabama head coach Nick SabanButch Dill/Associated Press

Shortly after the title game, Hall allegedly met with Tom Hicks, the brother of Texas regent Steve Hicks and former owner of the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars, for a scheduled conference call with Sexton in which another party provided Sexton's number to Hall.

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Simply put, "Texas reached out to Saban," rather than the other way around, based on this shadow game. 

Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Alabama head coach Nick SabanKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As we all know now, it didn't work out. 

Hicks couldn't convince Brown to retire and focus on a role in television, Brown coached one more year before resigning, Charlie Strong was named his replacement in January 2014 and Saban received a raise and extension through the 2021 season for $6.9 million per year before bonuses.

"I knew that if Mack stepped down, there would probably be an opportunity, but it wasn't something I was interested in doing, not at this stage in my career," Saban told ESPN.com's Chris Low in December 2013.

All part of the plan?

As SEC Network's Paul Finebaum noted on The Opening Drive on WJOX in Birmingham, Alabama, on Monday, Saban was close to making the jump.

Opening Drive @openingdrive

Finebaum: I think Saban was closer to going to Texas than we were led to believe.

It's very realistic that Saban could have played Texas in order to get that raise, or perhaps he genuinely was interested in moving to Austin. Burke states in the story that, at the time, Saban was frustrated with special pressure at Alabama that essentially made it national title or bust.

This isn't the first we've heard of this pressure. Terry Saban, Nick's wife, told Sharon Terlep of the Wall Street Journal prior to the 2013 Iron Bowl with Auburn (when Brown was still employed by Texas) that, despite those unrealistic expectations, they weren't leaving for Texas.

"You come to a crossroads and the expectations get so great, people get spoiled by success and there gets to be a lack of appreciation," Terry Saban told Terlep. "We're kind of there now."

Yes, Saban lobbying—or perhaps leveraging—for a job that was at the time occupied by somebody else is very Bobby Petrino-ish of him. Remember when Petrino was Louisville's coach in 2003 and met with Auburn officials about their job, which was then occupied by Tommy Tuberville? All situations are different, but this is about as close as we've come in college football to repeating that drama from 2003.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Alabama head coach Nick SabanChris Graythen/Getty Images

Is it out of bounds for a coach to actively seek out a job that isn't vacant—even for leverage purposes? 

Yes, but this kind of thing likely happens much more than we hear about publicly. 

Agents are in the game of getting their clients' names out as much as possible. Every November and December, when jobs look like they're going to open up or become vacant, names get tossed around in stories, on the radio and on television like they're hot cakes. 

Whether you're a Saban fan or think he's a snake based on his previous employment stops and the way he left those jobs, his flirtation with Texas shouldn't change your opinion of him one way or the other. The contract extension he signed with Alabama last year will likely be the last for the 63-year-old Saban, and whether it was in Austin or Tuscaloosa, he was looking for a long-term commitment and even more financial stability to close out his coaching career.

He got that, and used the instability in Austin to his advantage.

Good for Saban.

He knew the game, played the game and won the game.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee. 

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