With the successes of San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh, Seattle's Pete Carroll, and Tampa Bay's Greg Schiano, it would seem that there's been a shift in the perception that most college football coaches, no matter how well they've done at the NCAA level, would be better off staying put as opposed to making the jump to the NFL. Of course, the future NFL prospects of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who worked under Bill Belichick in Cleveland in the 1990s and was the Miami Dolphins' head coach in 2005 and 2006, have been discussed more recently as a combined result of this new influx of college coaches, and Saban's impressive success at Alabama.
Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe recently spoke with two NFL sources who said that if the Cleveland Browns wanted Saban to be their next head coach, and went after former personnel executive and current NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi (who worked with Belichick and Saban in Cleveland ) to be their general manager, it might actually happen.
Former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, asked his week how he would feel if Saban replaced Andy Reid as the Eagles' head coach, threw fire at the idea.
"I'm not a Saban guy, because I don't like liars, and I think he lied," Jaworski said. "I think he lied to the Miami Dolphins, and to the fans of Miami, and he left. And it's pretty simple, I think integrity is very important, if you don't have integrity, I don't know how you can be successful. Yeah, I know he's great at Alabama, and he'll probably win another national championship, but I just don't like people that don't have integrity, so it's pretty easy for me to say I don't want Nick Saban in town.
"Go ask some players on that team -- go ask some coaches on that team. The Bobby Petrinos of the world -- I have a hard time backing those guys. You don't have integrity, man ... I don't want to be around you."
Jaworski isn't the only one covering the league who would far prefer that Saban stay right where he is -- providing a pipeline of draft prospects to the league, as opposed to darkening the NFL's door ever again.
As Yahoo's own Mike Silver described him in the NFL Network's "Top 10 NFL Coaches Who Belonged in College" show, "Nick Saban -- the absolute tightest-wound human being ever to coach an NFL game. Utterly joyless, humorless, and lacking the Bill Belichick touch to get away with it. The ultimate liar and contract-breaker. I'm glad he's out of the pros, because he's pretty much reviled."
"He was such a dictator, people would walk the other way in the hall because they didn't want to cross his path," remembered long time sportswriter Howard Balzer in that same show. "That's why they called him the Nicktator. Saban thought it was going to be easy to come to the NFL and do things the way he wanted, but it just doesn't work that way."
Former Dolphins tight end and broadcaster Jim Mandich put it more succinctly: "If Nick Saban walked through that door right now, I'd say, 'Let's go -- let's start throwing down.' The biggest two-bit phony fraud I've ever known in my life. He was a miserable failure as a head coach in professional football."
Saban had a real problem with the truth, and that's what people remember of him in the NFL. He swore up and down that he didn't want the Dolphins job when he was at LSU, and he swore up and down that he didn't want the Alabama job when he was at Miami, though he was already negotiating with the Crimson Tide in the second year of his Dolphins tenure. He should probably avoid any more swearing up and down in future.
If Saban were ever to make a success of it in the NFL, he would have to do some serious self-assessment beforehand. I asked Carroll at the end of the 2010 season, his first back in the NFL after unsuccessful stints with the New York Jets and New England Patriots in the 1990s, what he had to adjust about himself.
"I'm way different now," Carroll said. "I'm the same person, but I know more what's important to me, and what's important to teach. To represent what's important to me as the head coach. That's truly been the change. And it took a lot of years in coaching before I kicked myself in the butt, and got my act together, and figured it out. I thought I knew, but I really didn't, and I didn't figure it out until the year between New England and when I went to USC. That was the time when things changes, and I haven't been the same since. I've been more clearly focused on that the issues are and what the philosophy is. The end result is that these guys I work with have a much better sense of how we're doing things. They have a much clearer picture of what we're trying to create and the team we're trying to become. I figured it out better so that I could teach it better, and explain it better, and stand for it more consistently."
Carroll learned it from the school of hard knocks. Harbaugh learned it through his 15 seasons as an NFL quarterback. Schiano seems to have an innate understanding of it so far, though we'll see what time tells us. However that knowledge is gleaned, those who know what it really takes to succeed as an NFL coach will tell you that it's about so much more than putting together an interesting game plan. If Nick Saban wants to return to the NFL, his first challenge will be to re-pave the roads he tore up on his way out.