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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Nick Saban, Gypsies and the Apocalypse

No, I'm not Carnac the Magnificent, the wonderful figure on Johnny Carson who could make merry connections among seemingly unrelated topics. I wish this were that funny, but the linked story makes me wonder about a bunch of things.

First, is Nick Saban Descended from Gypsies?

Put differently, is he related to either Larry Brown or Dave LaPointe? The former is the well-known hoops coach who seemingly wanted to coach at every Top 10 major college hoops program and half of the franchises in the NBA. The latter is the oft-traveled lefty starter (whose travels admittedly were mostly involuntary -- he wasn't in demand because he was good but because he was an average lefty innings eater) who at one point said that his goal was to be teammates with everyone in the Major Leagues (a writer then figured out that at the time LaPoint made his comment, he had been teammates with approximately 22% of the guys on Major League rosters). True, assistant football coaches make a lot of stops, as if they were in the U.S. armed forces or working for either IBM or GE. But Saban is a top guy now, but he hasn't yet found a home after being at Michigan State, LSU and the Miami Dolphins. True, he didn't pull a Jim Mora, Jr. and publicly state that he'd rather be somewhere else (and I can't blame Arthur Blank and Rich McKay for firing him after that), but he has wandered a bit during his head coaching career. Yes, Alabama is dangling a lot of money his way, but you have an impatient A.D. and a restless alumni body, many of whom still are looking for the next Bear Bryant. Nick, all that glitters is not gold. Make a decision for the money only and you'll be making a big mistake.

Second, is the Apocalypse upon us? Okay, I'm borrowing from SI a bit by raising this issue, but did you see how many coaches make more than $2 million a year? I recall a line from David Halberstam's excellent book on Bill Belichick entitled "The Education of a Coach." Halberstam asked Belichick's father Steve (who has since passed away) whether he thought his son was a genius. His father's response: "Genius? He runs down the sidelines of a football field for a living." So why are these coaches making so much money? Many are decrying the decline of education in the United States (okay, so major college football fans aren't singing in this particular chorus), and perhaps Exhibit A constitutes a list of the salaries of people who coach revenue-generating sports at the collegiate level. Sorry, college football fans, but these guys shouldn't make more than the president of the university or the gifted cancer researcher at your school.

That doesn't mean, of course, that they shouldn't be paid well, that they don't have pressures and that they don't generate revenues. No one is arguing that. But $4 million a year for Nick Saban to coach football at the University of Alabama? That's insane. He's not worth it. No one is.

Sorry to rain on your parade, 'Bama fans, but there is a good school in Tuscaloosa too. If you don't come to terms with Saban, consider it a blessing, and consider what you can do with the money you save if he turns you down and stays with the Dolphins.

A new cancer lab? A new computer sciences building?

And also think about the fact that great coaches become great somewhere. You don't always have to hire the established coach, you can hire the up-and-comer who becomes great. Someone took a chance on Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel, Bobby Petrino early in their careers. Perhaps the best coach is someone you already know, who is hungry, and who is primed to be another great coach. Perhaps you already know him, because chances are that there's a great coach out there who has spent some time as an assistant in Tuscaloosa who may be a coordinator for a good team somewhere else. Maybe that's the guy that you need.

And not an expensive, if talented and successful, nomad.


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