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Published: Sunday, 9/22/2013

Commentary

Bidding war for Saban would be fun

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Nick Saban said he doesn’t know about this Texas “stuff,” and indicated he was too old to leave the University of Alabama and start someplace else.

I’m not sure anybody should believe that.

Saban has always had wanderlust. We found that out in Toledo more than two decades ago.

I don’t believe he has any sentimental attachment to a job. One office, one practice field, one stadium is pretty much like the next one. A burnt orange tie will go with a gray suit as well as the crimson one does.

Nor do I believe he has any particular attachment to a paycheck. A person can only spend so much, although that’s strictly a guess on my part.

I’m also guessing he does attach himself to the challenge.

Saban Saban
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

Saban is the best college football coach of his generation. Three national championships in the last four years at Alabama, and a total of four, elevate him to rare air. The only other coaches to win four national titles in the so-called modern era are Bear Bryant, Frank Leahy, and John McKay. And it may be a stretch to put Leahy and “modern” in the same sentence.

Can you imagine the bidding war if a school like Texas indeed decides to make a run at him?

You can argue that excessive coaching contracts are one of the threats to the NCAA’s flimsy hold on the college game, and I would offer not one peep of an argument. But it would nonetheless be delicious to see how ludicrous it might get — $7 million a year? $8 million? $10 million? — if two of the biggest, wealthiest, most powerful schools and programs squared off over the game’s premier coach.

Texas football, you should know, is the biggest revenue producer in college sports. The Longhorns already pay their coach $5.4 million per year and not everyone is content with what Mack Brown has produced lately as the return on that investment.

Brown led Texas to a 69-9 record from 2004-09 but was 23-18 since entering a game last night against Kansas State.

It has come to light that after last January’s BCS title game two Texas money men had a conversation with Saban’s agent.

One of them then approached Brown and felt out his retirement thoughts. Since he had none, the whole thing was supposedly dropped. But after bad, early season losses to BYU and Ole Miss, Brown is under fire and what was dropped may soon be picked back up.

At Texas, money will not be an obstacle in firing one coach, regardless of the multiple years Brown has left on his contract, or hiring another.

Alabama, however, is not exactly poor. Saban is already making $5.6 million, and the Tide’s return on that investment has been spectacular.

How high might they all go?

What Brown is experiencing at Texas is not unusual. It is hard to maintain excellence. A certain amount of complacency can set in; perhaps the feeling of proceeding on auto pilot.

Saban has no such setting. He speaks only of the process — the same word he used while head coach at the University of Toledo during the 1990 season — and pays tunnel-vision attention to every detail every day.

I remember leaving the press box at the Glass Bowl around midnight after writing a story on UT’s win over Eastern Michigan early in the ’90 season. I was surprised to bump into Saban in the parking lot as we headed for our cars. It was two hours after the game had ended.

“Not out celebrating?” I asked.

“Bowling Green’s next,” he mumbled.

And that’s Saban, who will turn 62 next month. A win is merely a step in the process. One game ends, the next one begins.

GQ Magazine did a long cover-story profile of the coach recently, and the writer referred to a Saban look as “the bug zapper, for its ability to fry all who encounter it.”

I remember that look. I also remember sly smiles and laughter and stories we can’t repeat. There is a light side to Saban few see; fewer still, perhaps, as the stakes have grown.

He is in his seventh season at Alabama, and that’s the longest he’s ever stayed in one place.

The Tide is favored to compete for a three-peat national crown this year. What more can Saban accomplish at Alabama? His age comment aside, might there be one more challenge in front of him?

If so, that contract could be mind-blowing.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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