Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Saban-to-Texas? Didn't see it, don't see it

Nick Saban: the most talked-about coach in America (USA Today photo)
       Now that Nick Saban is the University of Texas head football coach and has begun work on his 10-year, $10 million-a-year contract ...
       Oh, that didn't happen? But so many people told me it would, assured me it was a done deal.
       And here is what I said anytime anyone brought it (and that happened so often since mid-September that I am sick of the subject): I'll believe it when I see it.
       Didn't see it then, don't see it now.
       This is an "I told you so" piece. I told you, I told everyone, I didn't believe it would happen. Thank you.
       What I did see was the most hysterical, most overblown feeding frenzy about a coaching situation that I can ever remember. Nothing in my 55 years of following sports in America has ever been speculated about more.
       In my world, the only situation to rival it was the speculation of who would replace Tom Landry as the Dallas Cowboys' coach. That was talked about during his final few seasons when the then-majority owner of the team, H.R. "Bum" Bright, was disenchanted with The Man in The Hat's coaching, the Cowboys were declining, Landry wasn't going to quit, and team president/general manager Tex Schramm wasn't about to fire him.
       That went on for a couple of years. But the stuff didn't really hit the fan until after Jerry Jones swooped into to buy the team -- with very little advance notice in the media -- and replaced Coach Tom with Jimmy Johnson. Then the backlash was enormous.
       But this Mack Brown-out/Saban-in business was blown up well before anything happened ... and perhaps without any substance.
       Everywhere -- TV sports talk shows, radio sports talk shows, newspaper stories, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, my personal e-mail and conversations -- people had Brown fired (some sooner than later) and Saban leaving Alabama for Texas.
       It really did get to the point that I stopped reading the speculation, and I told people that I didn't want to think about it or discuss it anymore. I refrained from writing a blog piece about it because there was so much out there already.
       Hey, I could speculate, but I guarantee you I didn't know any more than any of the so-called "experts," especially those who reported that publicly that, yes, Saban was going to be the next Texas coach.
       The line of people who said that or reported that -- including my old buddies at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram -- could stretch from Tuscaloosa to Austin and included some "who are never wrong about UT athletics."
       But the only way to really know is to hear it from Saban himself and, of course, he was only "focused" on the job he has now and the next game.
       So all the speculation, all the talk -- Mrs. Saban was house-shopping in Austin, Nick could not turn down $10 million a year, Mack was going to be fired after the bad-looking losses to BYU and Ole Miss in September -- in my view, that was all B.S.
       Yes, I know all the arguments were sound -- that Texas is the premier job in the country, that it has the most resources, its own TV network, the most fertile recruiting area, a great city (Austin) that makes Tuscaloosa look remote (well, it is, isn't it?), that it could better any financial deal Alabama can give Saban, etc., etc.
        But it just didn't make sense to me. Saban is already the highest-paid coach in the country, his staff is stable and well-paid, he has all he needs to win national championships -- and he's only won three of the last five there, with great prospects of more to come.
        Alabama is kicking everyone's butt, except its biggest rival, Auburn. And it took a great effort by Auburn, and a once-in-a-century, 99-yard return of a missed field-goal attempt for that to happen. So why would Saban leave a place where almost everything is going his way. He has all the power he could ever need.
        Maybe the challenge of winning a national title at yet another school could have been motivation, maybe he did indeed want a $10 million-a-year job. But you know, the $7.5 million Alabama is about to pay him isn't a bad deal.
        And at age 62, starting over, isn't all that desirable. Then there's a human element -- the moving itself (take it from someone who's moved 14 times in 36 years of marriage). There's family involved -- a wife, kids -- and the coaching staff's families. It's not easy, no matter how much money.
        When he agreed to his new contract with Alabama last week, Saban said he never considered the Texas job because for one thing it wasn't open ... yet. I find that believable, but then I heard a friend say it was "shameful" the way Texas officials handled this situation.
        What Texas officials actually? Mack Brown wasn't talking, other than about the team he was coaching. The outgoing Texas AD and incoming Texas AD weren't ready to discuss it. But here is where the speculation/frenzy/hysteria started, with a Sept. 19 Associated Press report: http://collegefootball.ap.org/article/apnewsbreak-texas-regent-talked-sabans-agent            
        Let's consider the sources for the story: UT Board of Regents member Wallace Hall of Dallas and former Texas Rangers/Stars owner Tom Hicks, also a former UT Board of Regents member whose brother Steve is still on that board.
        Hall told an Associated Press writer that he spoke with Saban's agent, Jimmy Sexton, about the job a few days after last year's national championship game won by Alabama, and that Sexton then spoke by phone to the Hicks brothers about Saban's possible interest.
        Hall's feud with UT-Austin campus president Bill Powers (who has close ties with Brown) was public knowledge, and Hall was being accused of misusing open records laws to force Powers out of office.    
        If you followed Tom Hicks' ownership with the Stars and Rangers for a decade, you know how publicity- and power-hungry he is, and what financial shambles he left for those two franchises.
        So if those are creditable sources for the Saban/Texas connection ... oh, wow.
        I am not arguing that a football coaching change isn't a good thing for Texas. Mack Brown, in my opinion (and most people's, I think), has been a class act and he was a big winner, the Longhorns were national champions once and contenders often.
        But there is slippage, that's obvious from the records the past four years and the things that happen -- injuries, transfers, bad breaks/calls during games, etc. -- that make a contender a pretender. (Cowboys fans have known this feeling for about as long as Brown was at UT.)
        Give Mack and his staff and his players credit for fighting back this season and going to the final game with a chance to win the Big 12 title and a BCS bowl berth. Didn't happen, but they didn't quit like so many of the Texas faithful quit on Mack and the team.
        However, 8-4 and second place in the Big 12 isn't what the Orangebloods think they should have. It is, after all, the University of Texas.
        Maybe Mack was "forced" to resign, or was truthful when he said he'd been told he could stay on but felt it was in UT's best interest to step aside. Whatever, the job is now open -- and Saban isn't taking it.
        So who will be the consolation winner? Seems as if the next Texas coach is destined for that tag, unless he can come in and instantly elevate the program to where Texas fans believe it should be (which means where Alabama is now).
        Saban is a "superstar" coach and the only guys in college football I would put there with him right now are Steve Spurrier and -- maybe, grudgingly -- Urban Meyer.
        You'd think the Longhorns and this job would attract a huge name. But that isn't their history. Think about it. Even Darrell Royal wasn't a "huge name" in 1957, nor were the UT coaches who followed him -- Fred Akers, David McWilliams, John Mackovic, even Mack Brown in late 1997. They'd all had some success, but they weren't "home run hitters" at their hiring.
        This time, because college football's salary structure has gone out of sight, because of all the big money and the media exposure, Texas is looking for a home run. And because of the Longhorn Network, it could use a media-savvy type, too (like Mack Brown).
        What we learned a long time ago is these coaches -- who are supposed to be such as honest and often personable guys and leaders of young men -- are typically not forthcoming about job opportunities. They'll sidestep or deny the speculation.
        Saban? We all remember his Dec. 21, 2006 statement to the media: "I guess I have to say it; I'm not going to be the Alabama coach." Just a flat-out misleading statement (I hate to use the word "lie").
        Now he keeps repeating his total commitment to Alabama and that this will be his last coaching job.
        But I hear people saying, and I keep reading, that he's still a possibility at Texas because these long-term contracts are as flimsy as the paper they're printed on, because buyout clauses really don't stop anyone from making a move they want to make.
        So, yes, until Texas names its new coach, Saban could still be the guy. And I'll stick with my premise: I'll believe when I see it. I'll be glad when all the talk is over, though.


  1. From Dave Moormann: Great blog. Sports no longer is about athletic contests, it's about the speculation that goes on between the games on the field. Of all the football coaches I covered, I have the most respect for Nick Saban and Bill Arnsparger. They operated on their own terms and didn't let anyone deter or unduly influence them. If Nick Saban is so hated, he must be doing something right.

  2. From Greg Pederson: Well-stated on the blog. These big cigar donors and the power they wield are sickening. Money rules, as it does in every phase of society, but it sickens me nonetheless. It's a little bit comforting to know that all those who spent their time in this world chasing and bowing down to the almighty dollar will get what's coming to them in the next world, but it's still hard to stomach now.I'm grateful to Mack, and he won/lost with class, and ran a mostly clean program (nothing heinous on his watch, beyond a couple rogue assistants and the typical teenage bonehead decisions made at 3 in the morning). But I agree, nothing wrong with giving someone else a try in getting it fixed; new blood is often good for a program.

  3. From Jimmy Russell: I personally do not think that Texas is the best coaching job in the USA. It is a good one and they have tons of money, but their overall success rate pales in comparison to Alabama for one and even LSU for another. The Texas A&M job is probably is as good. I, like you, will be surprised if Saban would go there, but maybe he has created a monster of expectations at Alabama and would like to escape that.
    It is amazing to me that people just think someone will be undefeated. One needs to be good and lucky, too. Everybody expected Louisville to win them all and they could have, but they did not. Odds are against such no matter how weak your schedule is, as evidenced by Louisville. Easier to win at Texas than Alabama with the conferences like they are. The old Southwest Conference was not that strong, either; it was Texas and Arkansas, and the rest.
    Great thoughts from a soothsayer.