The Lure Of Alabama

It is a long time back to 1992 and Alabama's last national championship. Today many believe that the next Crimson Tide title might not be too far away. How can that be? Bama is coming off a 6-7 season and just hired a head football coach who was 15-17 in his last two seasons.

Early this afternoon, Alabama made the anticlimactic announcement that Nick Saban has been hired as head football coach of the Crimson Tide. That announcement was made earlier by Wayne Huizenga in a nationally-televised press conference from the Miami Dolphins headquarters, where Saban has been head coach the past two years. Huizenga, owner of the Dolphins, was emphatic in his praise of Saban.

Huizenga also made it clear that Saban's decision was not based on money, but rather on lifestyle iussues. That is not to say that big bucks were not involved whether Saban stayed with the Dolphins or came to Alabama. Reports had him with three years remaining on a contract with the Dolphins for $5 million per year.

Although there have been reports with all sorts of figures, the most authoritative sources say the base figure is $3.75 million per year with incentives that can boost that. In any event, he will be the highest paid coach in college football history. Most believe the contract will be for eight years.

Saban has a bit of a reputation for not staying in one place for a long time, but as a college coach he was at Michigan State for five years before getting the opportunity to go to LSU, where he also stayed for five years.

At LSU he won two Southeastern Conference championships and won the national championship in 2003.

He was less successful as he had begun the rebuilding process of the Dolphins, 9-7 in 2005 and 6-10 in the season just ended.

When Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore announced the dismissal of Mike Shula on November 27, he also offered the criteria that would apply in the search for a successor. He said, "I am seeking a proven head coach with a proven record of achievement who can reach the level of excellence that all of us desire."

Asked if he would seek a college head coach, Moore said, "I don't want to close it off anywhere. It's a national search. I want a coach with a proven record of success we think can take us to a championship level."

There was a misfire, perhaps two. Early reports had Bama involved with South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier, who became one of a handful of coaches to announce that he would not accept the Alabama job. He may or may not have had an offer, but Spurrier certainly would have been a worthwhile candidate. Later Alabama did offer West Virginia Coach Rich Rodriguez, and Rodriguez (and/or his representative) accepted. But Rodriguez elected to remain at his alma mater.

A number of names surfaced as potential hires, but from Day One until January 3, 2007, when it became official, Nick Saban appeared to be Moore's top choice. And while there was surely a back-up plan had Saban changed his mind, for weeks Moore has had the demeanor of a man who seemed to have completed the task.

It is likely that Moore was able to discern, as did Huizenga, that the lure for Saban was not money. That was a battle Bama would not win if Saban and the Dolphins wanted to make it a bidding war.

It was about the college game. Saban had said that he missed college football, specificially working with college football players. College football is business, but nothing like the business of professional football.

One advantage of the job as Alabama head football coach compared to NFL coach is control. At Alabama, Saban will work for Athletics Director Mal Moore. But unlike an NFL owner, Moore is a football man, a longtime successful coach. He knows what is necessary to win and he will make sure Saban has the tools. And Moore won't get in the way. Saban will have the authority to run every aspect of the football program…as did Mike Shula.

And also as Mike Shula, Nick Saban will have the responsibility to put a winning team on the field.

Neither friend nor foe doubts that he will.


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