If Nick Saban wants to jump back into NFL, now is probably best time

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Job speculation is never part of "The Process" – Nick Saban's vaunted, all-encompassing system of building champions. It certainly isn't when his Alabama Crimson Tide is preparing for the Jan. 11 national title game against Clemson.

A man who loathes distractions in May will seethe at them now.

The NFL's Black Monday (and it could be a monster) awaits, whether Saban likes it or not.

Saban has resisted returning to the NFL since going 15-17 with the Miami Dolphins in 2005-06. He has since posted a 99-18 record at Alabama and is seeking his fourth national title (adding to one he previously captured at LSU). He may be the best college coach of all time.

Nick Saban is aiming for his fourth national title with Alabama. (AP)
Nick Saban is aiming for his fourth national title with Alabama. (AP)

Throughout his time in Tuscaloosa, speculation has swirled on him leaving, either back to the NFL or to some other delusional college program – how much was the University of Texas willing to pay him? Nothing close has materialized.

You can expect similar denials now too, but that's how the business works. What else is he going to say? He's got a title to win and this is, after all, the same guy who while in Miami declared: "I guess I have to say it. I'm not going to be the Alabama coach."

Two weeks later he was.

So anything can happen … this year especially.

First off, this isn't shifting to another college, which makes no sense because the famously impatient Saban has the perfect (and complete) setup in Tuscaloosa. Why go elsewhere in the NCAA and start over?

The NFL might now be appealing, though, if only for the timing.

Saban turns 65 this year. While he operates with an extremely high level of energy, the window to move back to the pro ranks is closing, perhaps quickly.

With the likely departure of 69-year-old Tom Coughlin, Saban could enter the league as likely its second-oldest coach – six weeks younger than Seattle's Pete Carroll.

Only Saban would be starting anew.

He's certainly not too old to do the job, but for how many more years? The NFL is a brutal grind. The median coaching age at the start of the season was 53. Only a few coaches even make it to their 60s – Carroll, New England's Bill Belichick, Arizona's Bruce Arians and Chicago's John Fox are the only ones expected to be coaching past that mark next season.

How many years can go by (one year, two?) before Saban is no longer considered viable?

If this isn't his last chance at the NFL, it may be his last, best chance.

From the opposite side, this may be the ideal moment also.

Saban has accomplished everything in college football and bringing another championship to Alabama could serve as a perfect time to jump. If he defeats Clemson for his fifth career national championship, he'll trail only Bear Bryant's six, but Saban's were won in a far more competitive era with some semblance of a championship system, not just a poll vote.

Saban may prefer to stay put and continue to win. The Tide should continue to roll. Yet if proving himself at the highest level remains a goal, then a victory against Clemson would allow him to leave Tuscaloosa with no apologies, the program firing on all cylinders for the next guy (Dabo Swinney? Lane Kiffin? Jimbo Fisher?)

Most significantly, though, are the appealing opportunities that may be available to Saban this year, a smorgasbord of NFL possibilities.

The Indianapolis Colts could offer traditional success plus Andrew Luck, one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. Having a great QB is almost a prerequisite to winning in the NFL. The Tennessee Titans could counter with promising rookie Marcus Mariota and a mid-sized Southern market.

Tom Coughlin is on the coaching hot seat in New York. (AP)
Tom Coughlin is on the coaching hot seat in New York. (AP)

Philadelphia, San Francisco and the New York Giants bring major markets, plus Eli Manning in the case of New York, should that somehow appeal to him (for a guy who routinely scolds the Alabama media, probably not, but never say never).

What if he could get full control in Detroit, which needs a general manager, (likely) a coach and public-relations wise could use a complete overhaul but actually has a decent roster? Quarterback Matthew Stafford will be just 28 years old next season with potential still to fill.

The same power might be possible in Cleveland, where there is no quarterback (no way Johnny Manziel isn't cut by Happy Hour with Saban) but some sentimental pull – Saban was a defensive coordinator there in the mid-1990s under Belichick and he grew up three and a half hours away in West Virginia.

Then there's St. Louis, maybe New Orleans if Sean Payton were to leave or who knows where else.

Not all of these franchises would want Saban. Not all would appeal to him. What's undeniable, though, is that there are diverse options this year, which may be the year he is most likely to at least consider another crack at the NFL.

He may go nowhere, of course. He may win and decide to stay and try to break Bryant's record in the college ranks. He may lose to Clemson and remain as motivated as ever.

"The Process" says his focus is all about winning next Monday. It should be.

After that, anything's possible though, this year especially.

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