When Nick Saban signed his unprecedented eight-year, $32 million contract to be the head coach at Alabama, I told some friends that there would come a day when that deal would look like a bargain.
That day, as it turns out, is today.
Saban just signed a three-year contract extension which, if he stays for its entirety, will keep him in Tuscaloosa through the 2017 season. That’s nine more years.
The contract extension should have been longer. In fact, the school should have offered him a lifetime deal.
Here’s why: When Alabama was struggling to a 6-7 (2-6 SEC) finish in Mike Shula’s final season (2006), some of my Crimson Tide friends were simply dumbfounded. They simply did not understand why a school with Alabama’s tradition and resources, which are considerable, should be in this position.
And they had a point. It is tough to compete for the SEC championship every season because the league is so good and, with the 85-scholarship limit, programs are going to have some ups and downs from time to time.
But Alabama should never be BAD in the sport of football.
The reality is that as long as Nick Saban is the head coach, Alabama will never be bad. The Crimson Tide may not be at the top of the SEC West every single season, but this team will never embarrass its fans for not being competitive. And you can’t say that about a lot of football programs.
Yeah, Saban can be a bit of a control freak. He gets annoyed by the media’s obsession with minutiae which, of course, simply reflects the interest of the fan base. If you want to talk X’s and O’s and he has the time, Saban will talk all day. He loves to talk about football. It’s the warm and fuzzy stuff that he has no time for.
But, quite candidly, you have to be a control freak if you’re going to be the head coach at Alabama. Because, as I’ve said many times, Alabama’s greatest strength as a football program is also its greatest weakness:
The fans care so much.
For 25 years Alabama’s football spoke with only one voice and that was the familiar growl of Paul “Bear” Bryant (1958-82). Even when Alabama wasn’t winning, and that wasn’t often under Coach Bryant, there was no dissention because there was never any doubt about who was in charge.
It has taken Alabama 25 years since his death in 1983 to find another coach strong enough to hold the various factions of the Crimson Tide family together and keep everybody on task. Gene Stallings (1990-96) did it for a while, winning 70 games in even seasons. But even he had to fight to exert control over the program and all of its moving parts.
As Saban prepares to bring Alabama to Atlanta to play Virginia Tech in Saturday’s Chick-fil-A College Kickoff, he is in TOTAL control of the Crimson Tide football program and virtually anything that comes into contact with it. Let’s assess what has happened since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in January of 2007:
**–Alabama has won the SEC’s West division and has played in the conference championship game.
**–Alabama started the 2008 season 12-0 and rose to the nation’s No. 1 ranking. Last December Alabama was one quarter away from playing for the national championship.
**–Alabama, despite losing its starting quarterback and three starters on the offensive line, is picked to win the SEC West and is in just about everybody’s preseason Top 10.
**–For the second year Saban has agreed to play in the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff, which is giving the program day-long national TV exposure and making further inroads to recruiting in the state of Georgia (much to the chagrin of the programs at Georgia and Georgia Tech).
**–An Auburn program that had beaten Alabama six straight times now has a new head coach and an uncertain future. Saban and his staff are pretty much in control of the state when it comes to recruiting.
And all that has happened in just two seasons.
The point is, Saban was hired at Alabama to accomplish two major tasks: To unite a fan base and to make the Crimson Tide relevant again on the national stage. Logically, a job like that should take several years. Saban did it in year No. 2.
Like him or not, you have to admit the man can coach. And if you pull for another SEC school, you have to admit that as long as Saban is in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide will never be bad and most of the time will be very, very good.
That’s why Alabama officials have approved an $80 million expansion that will bring seating at Bryant-Denny Stadium from 92,138 to over 101,000, starting with the 2010 season. Is there any doubt that those seats, which include 36 luxury skyboxes, are going to be sold faster than you can say “Roll Tide?”
They will generate untold millions. That’s why if you’re a Crimson Tide fan, you better give this guy whatever he wants. He has been a bargain for your school.
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