Is Nick Saban on his way to becoming the first $10 million coach in college football?
Let the jockeying begin.
The simmering Saban lust of thousands of burnt orange backers has been unleashed by an Associated Press report Thursday, which confirms that Texas high rollers contacted Saban's agent last January. Commensurate with that is the fear and insecurity sparked in Alabama, where threatened fans might be willing to sell kidneys and children to raise whatever it takes to keep their coach.
Or they could send Harvey Updyke after Bevo. Guard that steer, Silver Spurs.
We'll have to see how it plays out, of course. This is September, with a lot of unpredictable football to be played. Fortunes may yet rise and fall and alter the course of things. And it's true that super agent Jimmy Sexton represents a ton of coaches – so maybe the call didn't relate to the king.
And the king himself threw some cold water on the story on his radio show Thursday night, saying in regard to Texas, "I'm too damn old to start over somewhere else."
Of course, Saban has denied interest in a job he wound up taking once before – namely Alabama. And with public support crumbling around Mack Brown and the near certainty that Texas wouldn't go after Sexton's B-List clients, we could be approaching a potentially epic bidding war between two bluebloods for the best coach in the game.
Saban currently is making $5.6 million a year at Alabama – a king's ransom. But a Texas program that leads the nation in football revenue could probably drive the pay scale into territory scarcely even imagined in college sports. And if the Longhorns job opens and such an offer came, you know Alabama would counter with anything and everything it had.
The Saban-to-Texas fantasy has played out in the minds of Bevo backers for years – probably ever since Saban's first great Alabama team beat Brown's last great Longhorns team for the national title.
Since then, the longing has intensified. Saban has kept winning at a ridiculous rate, adding national titles in 2011 and '12. Meanwhile, Brown has lost the magic, and Texas fans have lost their patience.
Apparently, some high rollers decided last January to try to turn fantasy into reality. The AP says University of Texas regent Wallace Hall had a phone conversation with Sexton a few days after the Crimson Tide walloped Notre Dame to win the national championship last January. According to the report, former regent Tom Hicks, brother of current regent Stephen Hicks, also was on the call.
The AP says Tom Hicks then met with Brown a couple days later and told him about the contact with Sexton. Hicks reportedly asked Brown if he wanted to retire, and Brown said no. End of story.
Except it's not end of story. Not by a long shot.
These January interactions have gone public at a time that is most inopportune for Brown and Texas. For Saban and Alabama, too.
After a 1-2 start on the heels of three lackluster seasons, Brown is under more heat than he's ever faced in 16 seasons at Texas. He fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz just two games into the season, a sure sign that this is a win-now situation or else. Now, while trying to circle the wagons for Big 12 play, out comes this revelation.
The fact that Texas regents would talk to Saban's agent indicates the seriousness of the impatience with Brown. And the fact that Tom Hicks – a reported friend of Brown – would go to Mack after talking to Saban to ask him about retirement should have spiked the coach's insecurity.
"Tom and Mack are friends and talk often," Stephen Hicks told the AP. "They simply visited and just talked the idea through. It was dropped and nothing happened … It was a short conversation."
But if Tom Hicks were truly in Brown's corner, they would have had the "short conversation" about retirement before Hicks got on the phone with Sexton. And if Brown said he didn't want to retire, presumably there would have been no call. Instead, Hicks and Hall went behind Mack's back, and Hicks checked in with his friend later.
So that's one more massive distraction for Mack Brown to deal with heading into the first Big 12 game of the season, at home against Kansas State Saturday. As if his team wasn't already in a fragile enough state.
But the distractions run both ways, to Tuscaloosa as well.
Saban had to deal with a whopper of a problem last week, when Yahoo Sports reported that 2012 Alabama star D.J. Fluker allegedly received thousands of dollars in impermissible benefits from a former Crimson Tide player acting as a "concierge" for agents and financial advisers. The school has said it is investigating the allegations, which are extensively backed by documentation.
The Tide rolled through that firestorm on the way to College Station, where it won the biggest game of the year to date in a shootout against Texas A&M. Saban undoubtedly was in the midst of a much calmer game week heading into the Saturday mismatch against Colorado State when this report blew up.
The fact that Sexton took the call will be enough to send a ripple of unease through Alabama. The fact that Tom Hicks came away from that call emboldened enough to ask Mack Brown if he wanted to retire should turn that ripple into a wave, since it suggests there may have been interest on Saban's behalf in the Texas job.
So much drama. And it's only September.
It may all disappear in the months ahead. But if Mack Brown goes down, the price for Nick Saban may go up to an unprecedented figure.