Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Slick Nick Road Show continues

Is anyone really shocked at Nick Saban's smash-and-dash to Tuscaloosa yesterday? It already has to be the least surprising development in the oh-so-fresh-and-young 2007.

This is what the man does. Any Michigan State fan could tell you that. It seemed like he had one foot out the door with a phone to his ear during his entire four-year stay in East Lansing. Saban also showed how sneaky he could be when he insisted that he didn't meet with anyone in New York about the Giants' head-coaching job. See, he actually met with them in New Jersey.

To be fair, however, though it looked like Saban left MSU hanging when he bolted for LSU, it's been revealed in the seven years since his departure that the school's administration was playing games with him and his contract.

LSU catered to Saban's ego, made him feel wanted, and offered him an opportunity to be the top dog in an area with fertile talent - something he was likely never going to be in Michigan. (And correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Saban's contract made him the highest-paid coach in college football.)

Obviously, it turned out to be the right decision. Saban proved just how good a coach he could be by winning the 2003 national title. Yet a year later (after trying for a championship repeat), he was loading up the moving trucks, bound for Miami.

I'm not nearly as familiar with the situation in Baton Rouge, but I'm sure the pattern was similar enough. Rumors of Saban leaving for the NFL began to persist, while he insisted he wasn't going anywhere. Maybe he talked about his love for LSU, and how Baton Rouge was the best place for his family. He'd won the national championship and recruits continued to stream in - why would he go anyplace else?

Of course, a big, fat contract ($5 million per year) from Wayne Huizenga and the promise of total control over football operations can do a lot to change a man's mind.

Maybe it was time for Saban to go, anyway. What more could he achieve? He put in five years. He got a national title. It could only go downhill from there, right? Coaches typically have nomadic resumes, but Saban's (especially with his time in the NFL) seemed to indicate that he wasn't too interested in hunkering down in one place for 10-15 years. He's a mercenary football coach. And if you've got the money, Slick Nick is interested.

Sure, he'll act offended at such a notion. How can he maintain credibility with his players while preaching the virtues of integrity and character?

Back in his office, however, he apparently just can't say no when someone begins flirting. Saban's like that man or woman you know who's happily married, with seemingly everything you could want (house, kids, great job, etc.), yet feels the need to go to the bar (wedding ring tucked away in pocket, of course) to see if he or she still "has it."

And that's what's so outrageous about his behavior over the past week. You've heard the sound bites on TV and sports talk radio constantly over the past 24 hours.

"I guess I have to say it. I'm not going to be the Alabama coach. ... I don't control what people say. I don't control what people put on dot-com or anything else. So I'm just telling you there's no significance, in my opinion, about this..."

Hey, he's not going anywhere! So quit asking him about it! He's looking at you dead in the eye and telling you how it stands, man! Why are you even bringing this stuff up?!

Yet once again, back in his office, he's setting up interviews with the University of Alabama. Oh, just to hear what they have to say, right? Please. Anyone who's familiar with Saban's history knows that he was leaving the Dolphins as soon as that meeting was scheduled. Otherwise, why not just say no? Wait a minute - how much money was the Crimson Tide offering?

And there you go. It's that kind of phony indignation, saying one thing while clearly intending another, that has people so outraged. Even the Miami Herald's reporters, filing supposedly unbiased news stories, couldn't help but let some of their cynicism and venom sneak into their prose. (Even Dan Le Batard was apoplectic, and he lets everyone off the hook. Oh, if only Saban had been busted with guns or steroids. Or decided to take a marijuana-fueled sabbatical. Then he'd probably be "misunderstood" in Le Batard's eyes.)

Sure, it's not entirely about the money. (But c'mon, let's be real here.) It's about control, being able to mold a program to suit your beliefs. It's about having a true position of authority over 18-to-23-year-olds, and forging boys into men, as opposed to catering to adults raking in a ton of cash from professional contracts.

But it's also about being perceived as a savior, which is obviously intoxicating to Saban. Alabama is a historically elite college football program that has consistently shot itself in the foot looking for the next Bear Bryant. (While I'm at it, why did they fire Gene Stallings? Was one national title not enough?)

The possibility of being the guy to finally bring glory back to Alabama - along with $32 million, of course - was just too good to turn down. Especially when it appears that Saban was in over his head in the NFL. (Maybe that mess-up with instant replay in Week 1 this season told us all we needed to know.) College football clearly suits him better.

But kudos to Alabama. They got the best guy we didn't (but should've) realize was available, and it will be worth the trouble. Saban will very likely bring another national championship to Tuscaloosa. He's very good at what he does; just look at his record. However, it's worth noting this to Tide fans: If you think Slick Nick is sticking around for the duration of that eight-year contract, you haven't been paying attention. You'll learn. Oh, you'll learn.

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