Posted: 7:00 a.m. Friday, Sept. 20, 2013
By Brandon Larrabee
There's nothing that will take a rumor from messages boards and Twitter to the front page like a well-sourced report on something resembling the rumor. And that's how we went from vague rumors that Texas might try to hire Nick Saban to open speculation that Texas might try to hire Nick Saban -- the Associated Press reported that Saban's agent was contacted in January about whether the coach of three of the last four national championship teams might want to head to Austin.
Now, you might note that Saban was contacted eight months ago and nothing came of it. But in the last eight months, Texas has proven to not be so good at football, and Mack Brown appears to be skating on much thinner ice that he was in the winter. So Nick Saban decided to go ahead and issue a quasi-denial about the idea, with just enough wiggle room to allow everyone to believe whatever they wanted to believe in the first place.
Terry and I are very happy here in Tuscaloosa. ... And, quite frankly, I'm just too damn old to start over somewhere else.
Again, that's not the strongest denial in the history of coaching rumors, but it's pretty strong. It would have been much stronger if Saban had said something like "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach" -- which, of course, he said a few weeks before he was introduced as the Alabama coach. So it's not like there's anything Saban could have said that would have completely squelched the rumors.
All that said, though, I don't think Nick Saban is anywhere close to being a viable option for Texas. There's always the slightest chance that he will take the Longhorns job -- there's the slightest chance that I'll walk out of my apartment tomorrow morning and be crushed by a falling asteroid -- but it's a minute chance. It won't happen for the main reason you've heard, and I'm betting it won't happen at all.
First, the money isn't going to be better. This is the main reason that most people give for thinking that Nick Saban is going to Texas: The school in Austin practically mints money. And that's true. Peruse USA Today's finance database, and you'll find that Texas produces far and away the most money in college sports. (Be careful about said database, but it probably works for our purposes.)
But there are a few things missing from simply looking at the fact that Texas makes more money than Alabama. For example, that doesn't seem to have affected Saban's current earnings of more than $5.6 million a year.
Saban, who has guided Alabama to three national championships in the past four seasons, edges out Texas' Mack Brown as the sport's highest paid coach. [Emphasis added]
Of course, Texas might be willing to pay more than they're paying Brown in order to land Saban for the 2014 season. But how much more? Are they going to nearly double what they're paying Brown and go to $10 million? And, if so, what's to keep Alabama from doing the same?
Well, the skeptic snorts, Alabama can't keep up with Texas in a bidding war. Fair point. But it depends entirely on how much Texas is willing to offer. Texas' financial advantage over Alabama technically begins with the Longhorns' 124,899,946th dollar. But, of course, they're not going to pay Nick Saban $125 million a year. And that means that the advantage is not going to be as much of an advantage as it appears. Unless Texas does something stunningly irresponsible, they're not going to win a bidding war with Alabama. They might drive the price up considerably, but they're unlikely to win.
If you take out the subsidy that the Alabama athletics department received in 2012, the program turned a profit of about $11.2 million. Even accounting for an unspecified raise after that figure was released, the Tide could technically offer Saban somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million without eating up all of its profit. What's Texas going to offer? $17 million? $20 million? How far do you think Texas is willing to go to get Saban?
Remember, these are still rational human beings on some level. They might be willing to make Saban a wealthier man many times over, but it reaches a point where it's simply not worth it. And that point is probably well south of Alabama's ability to pay. If Saban leaves Alabama, it will not be because of the money.
Nick Saban will soon turn 62 years old. The line about being "too damn old" to take another job might seem like a bit of bravado, but it also happens to have a ring of truth. With all the advantages he currently enjoys in Tuscaloosa, why would he want to go to Texas and have to build a program all over again?
For all the deserved buzz that Saban gets as perhaps the best head coach of his generation, even Saban has generally needed some time to get his program where he wants it to be. He didn't have what you would consider a breakout season at Michigan State until his fifth year with the program. Saban won his first conference title at LSU in his second year at the school, but didn't have back-to-back Top 25 seasons until his fourth and fifth years. And he faced the 7-6 season at Alabama in 2007 and the near-miss 2008 season that featured a gaudy record but nothing more than an SEC West title to speak before finally breaking through with the Tide.
Using that as a template, Saban might be 64 or 65 before he has the Longhorns running as well as Saban would expect. In those two or three years, he would have a decent chance at winning another title at Alabama. At Texas, he would be trying to build a program that might be able to compete for a few titles before Saban turns 70.
And there's a side to this that Texas has to consider itself. If the Longhorns hire Saban at 62 years old, how long are they likely to have him? Five years? Eight? Ten? And how long before other programs will start to tell recruits that Saban won't be in Austin much longer so you best not sign with him? As of those would cause a great deal of instability for the Texas program, and face it with the very real chance of having to hire two coaches within a decade, regardless of how well Saban does in Austin.
Yes, there might be some appeal for Saban in the challenge of reviving Texas, and the short-term benefits might be worth it for Texas. But both sides would be well-advised to reconsider before signing a contract, and all it takes is one party deciding not to move forward for the whole idea to fall apart.
Why would he? The one thing that seems to be missing in all of this discussion is any plausible motive -- beyond money -- for Saban to actually make the leap. If Texas can't offer Saban vastly more money than Alabama, and I've pointed out why I think that's unlikely, why exactly would Saban go to Texas?
He can't prove anything more. Saban has already earned his place as perhaps the best head coach among any of his contemporaries. (Name me one better.) He won a national championship at LSU and has already won three at Alabama. No one in the future is going to question his bona fides.
The only possible dent on his resume, if you want to consider it one, is that he hasn't quite built a program in the sense that Steve Spurrier did at Florida and South Carolina, becoming the winningest coach in both schools' histories by taking them to heights they'd never seen before. But nobody's ever going to mistake Texas for a rags-to-riches story. Saban would have be coaching a tradition- and money-rich school that has seen several coaches do great things in Austin. He can't really distinguish himself there. (And that doesn't even touch on his responsibilities for the Longhorn Network and all the other ambassadorial functions that are expected of the Texas head coach after Brown.)
Saban can do the same thing in Tuscaloosa and draw comparisons to Bear Bryant, the greatest football coach in the history of the college game. He won't have to wait a couple of years to get his program in place, and the money will continue to be good.
So, someone remind me, why would he do this?