Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
Since Nick Saban abdicated his head coaching position in the NFL and retreated to Alabama in 2007, the college football world has revolved around Tuscaloosa, Alabama as it did back in the days when Paul “Bear” Bryant coached the Crimson Tide between 1958-1982.
With Bryant at the helm, the Tide enjoyed unparalleled success that had never before been seen in the sport. In 25 seasons under the legendary ball coach, Alabama made 24 consecutive bowl games, won six national titles, 13 SEC championships and compiled a 232-46-9 record.
In 1970, after consecutive lackluster seasons of 6-5 and 6-5-1, speculation ran rampant as to whether Bryant would make the jump to the NFL. He never did.
Next year will be the 10th year steely-eyed Saban will patrol the Alabama sidelines, and his rap sheet is starting to read more and more like Bryant’s.
Nine seasons, four national championships, four conference titles, nine straight bowl appearances and a 99-18 record. Oh, and speculation continues to run rampant nearly every year over his imminent departure to the NFL.
It’s because Saban’s done it all. He’s circumnavigated the college football world multiple times to the point where every SEC title and each national championship win almost feels like a victory lap.
One day, school wings, streets and maybe even stadiums will be named after him.
So what does Nick Saban have left to prove at Alabama? Absolutely nothing. It’s time for the legendary ball coach to take his act on the road to one of the newest openings at the NFL level.
He’s already defied all of the conventions that constrain the college game these days. He’s living in his own era that is somehow extricated from the rest of college football’s plane of existence.
In an era where stability from coaches and players at programs is constantly fleeting, Saban perseveres.
In an era where recruiting out of your own backyard is a struggle for even the most prestigious schools with a surplus of local talent, Saban has thrived.
But in an era where almost all college coaches that can make the jump, eventually make the move to the NFL, Saban stands pat.
Maybe’s he’s just an institutional man. He’s got a job for life at the University of Alabama and maybe another stab at an NFL head coaching job isn’t worth the stress or the stain it might place on a Hall of Fame legacy.
But the problem with that argument is that Saban already revealed his desire to make it at the NFL level.
In 2003, Saban’s LSU Tigers won the national championship. In 2004, they finished 9-3, lost in the Capital One bowl, and Saban left the Tigers for a job with the Miami Dolphins.
LSU is one of the top programs in the country and Saban could probably have stayed at the school as long as he felt like if a high-level job at a banner college football program was his end game. But instead, he made the jump to the NFL, ostensibly due to the fact that he had conquered college football and was ready for another challenge.
Some might say that his move to the Dolphins and his subsequent return to college football was an abject failure and that’s why he’ll stay away this time around. The reality, however, it that his cup of coffee with the Miami Dolphins in 2005 and 2006 doesn’t constitute a failure at the NFL level as much as a surrender.
If you remember correctly, Saban left the Dolphins after a 6-10 season (following a 9-7 season), his first, and last as of now, losing season as a head coach. Plus, he started that year with a post-prime Daunte Culpepper at quarterback and concluded it with the likes of Joey Harrington and Cleo Lemon. Not ideal.
It’s hard to blame him for getting out of a situation that seemed like it wouldn’t pay any dividends for a long time. It’s easy to blame him for the way he handled it, but the move still made sense in hindsight, especially in light of what he’s done since at Alabama.
What wouldn’t make sense is if Saban doesn’t take the plunge once more while he’s in the prime of his career as a coach.
A second chance at greatness on the one of sports’ biggest stage is just a phone call and a formality of an interview away if Saban wants it.
“Bear” Bryant famously told reporters that if he retired he would “probably croak within a week,” and his words proved prophetic – the famed coach died of a heart attack just four weeks later.
Alabama was his lifeblood and maybe that’s the case for Saban as well at this point. Not to say that mortality awaits him on the other side of Alabama football, but maybe a coaching death of sorts that Saban doesn’t want to come to grips with. Maybe he’s just afraid of what lies on the other side.
Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he’d gladly trade them for just one championship for any of his other three teams.