More on Saban – Jason Cole: It's not about the money
Nick Saban said there were things he missed about college football (like Bill Belichick doesn't coach there), so now he has stabbed Wayne Huizenga in the back the way he does to someone every couple of years.
Now Saban is off to Alabama, where the Crimson Tide will pay him tens of millions of dollars to restore the program to prominence, figure out a way to finally beat dw-Auburn and, no doubt, claim that he is not interested in returning to the NFL or the Big Ten in two years while secretly feeding the rumor mill that he is.
That's the deal with this guy, who even by the pathetic truth standards of the coaching profession seems to redefine disloyalty and dishonesty by the hour. Saban can sure coach college ball, but he's about as straight as the Coosa River.
In recent weeks he repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly denied he was leaving the Miami Dolphins just the way he used to deny he was interested in leaving Toledo, Michigan State and LSU, even though just about every year he was doing just that.
"I'm not going to be the Alabama coach", said the new Alabama coach last week.
Hey, if recruits and their parents want to trust this guy with their future, well, here's hoping the booster checks clear.
The fact that Alabama, 6-7 this year – its third non-winning season in the last four – is dealing with a guy like Nick Saban tells you how desperate things have become in Tuscaloosa.
This used to be one of the premiere jobs in the country. Back when Alabama cared more about football than anyone else – when it commanded the most TV time, when it built the biggest and best stadium – it was the program of the South. Now it isn't the program of the state.
Alabama's natural advantages have been chipped away by scholarship limits, widespread television coverage, parity, facility construction booms across the country and athletic director Mal Moore's unique knack of hiring the absolute worst guy for the job.
Today, unlike when Bear Bryant was around, things are far more competitive, an era when Louisville, Wake Forest and Boise State can play in the BCS, when just about everyone in the Southeastern Conference has incredible commitment – NCAA legal or otherwise.
It's not that Alabama can't be great again – it still is a big-time program – but it isn't as easy as it used to be. And comparisons to other historic programs that hit a rough spot – Southern California, Texas, Ohio State – don't wash because those programs are surrounded by huge populations. The state of Alabama has just 4.5 million people, and Auburn is going to get at least its share of the best 18 year-old football players.
Saban is good enough that he will crank it up the way he did at LSU, where he won the BCS title in 2003. He might even beat Tommy Tuberville every so often.
But he stands in stark contrast with the two coaches who drove the Crimson Tide to their greatest glory.
Bryant and Gene Stallings were dignified men of supreme loyalty who had a love for all things Alabama. They wore jackets and ties on the sideline, casting an air of class. You couldn't imagine either man conducting his career as a series of charades, lies and flirtations in an annual quest to quench his inner-attention lust.
For Saban, however, there is no other way. Alabama can delude itself that it has enough money and enough tradition that things will be different this time, but soon enough there will be a new dream job – Dallas Cowboys? Notre Dame? Hoover High?
Then he'll hold everyone hostage as he pulls one of these interested/not interested rituals. He'll drive everyone nuts, the Larry Brown of football coaches.
The guy is so unlikable that when he left Michigan State for LSU he famously sent a plane back to East Lansing to pick up all his former staff members who wanted to join him. The plane flew back to Baton Rouge empty.
That Alabama – which could hire a dozen great, loyal coaches – wants to deal with endless rumors and inherent distrust speaks to how it keeps making the same mistakes in the hiring process.
The blame for the coaching turnover usually (and wrongly) falls on rabid fans, who actually are no more rabid than most of the SEC. At Alabama, the blame should fall squarely on the powers that be, who, ever since Stallings retired, keep turning to instant gratification hucksters and suckers.
There was Mike DuBose – the Flop from Opp (his hometown) – who was perfect except for his habit of winning four games a season, breaking NCAA rules and sleeping with his secretary.
There was Dennis Franchione, who was a fine coach, but didn't care about 'Bama and left for Texas A&M after two seasons. There was Mike Price, who never coached a game because one night he got drunk and invited back to his hotel the world's hungriest stripper, who ordered the entire room service menu.
Finally there was Mike Shula, who was a good-looking guy with a famous last name. Unfortunately he couldn't coach his way out of a houndstooth bag.
And now they go with Saban. Hey, he certainly can coach 'em up, so the mediocre seasons ought to end. And the likelihood that he winds up in personal scandal is pretty slim.
After winning the 2003 national title at New Orleans' Sugar Bowl, the ever-dour Saban was asked whether he was going to walk Bourbon Street and get a Hurricane, hit Emeril's for some Andouille or even smile.
He said that was too fast-paced for him. He claimed he was going to have a Little Debbie cookie and go recruiting.
He didn't mention that it was probably for his next job.