Couch: Stay or go? Don't try to predict what Alabama coach Nick Saban will do
As soon as Texas officials finish planning their celebration of Mack Brown’s greatness as Longhorns coach, and then remove their foot from his backside, the focus will move on to Nick Saban.
Will he leave Alabama for Texas?
Here is the truth: Anyone who answers that question knowingly is just guessing.
I have spent the past few days on the Alabama campus, and -- through talking with sources -- can tell you that even Alabama doesn’t know for sure.
A lot of things you know, a lot you add 2-and-2 to figure out, and a lot you just plain guess. With Saban and Texas, there is a lot of guessing going on.
Here’s what sources have told me: The school has offered Saban a contract extension, with a raise, or has at least indicated to his agent that that offer will be there. This was not done specifically to counter Texas. Saban hasn’t signed the contract yet, which has fans a little edgy, and in some ways, has Alabama officials a little edgy, too.
But so far, things have gone exactly the same way Saban’s previous contract negotiations have. He does not like to deal with contract situations while there is still football left to be played. In fact, Saban has a longstanding deal with his agent, Jimmy Sexton, that they don’t talk about such things with each other until after the season.
That doesn’t mean Sexton isn’t talking with Texas or with Alabama. It means that if Saban is following his own rules, then HE isn’t talking with Texas yet, and isn’t even talking with his agent about Texas. Or about Alabama.
According to sources, Alabama officials, in their dealing with Saban’s people, feel there is an indication that nothing has changed with Saban, that he hasn’t committed to Texas. Yet, when something big like this came up — and Texas booster Red McCombs said publicly he thinks the school can land Saban because “All the money that is not up at the Vatican is at UT’’ — it did get the attention of Alabama officials.
They are a little worried.
The truth is, this hasn’t played out yet. And the media are so antsy to find out what hasn’t happened yet that they are now in the process of trying to get blood from a stone.
One ESPN report said that Saban has a contract offer from Alabama on his desk and that Alabama officials are worried that he hasn’t signed it yet. Another person from the same network reported that Saban does not have a contract offer on his desk.
For sure, one of those two people successfully broke a story.
It happened at Texas, too, where the power brokers were telling people that Brown was out, but Brown seemed to be fighting it. So sources went both ways.
Texas’ power brokers have been making this happen for the whole season, ever since they likely leaked the story that at the end of last year Sexton told them Texas was the one school Saban would be interested in listening to.
This is a first-class look at how the sausage is made. Texas officials probably were leaking that as a way to let Brown know he’s being pushed out the door. Now that he’s (almost) gone, those same people are thanking him for his masterful work.
The business of coaching searches is treacherous. It’s hard to know how Mike Tomlin’s and Jim Harbaugh’s names suddenly were thrown into the discussion at Texas. Maybe it was the work of Texas’ power boys? Maybe those coaches’ agents? Maybe media guesses.
Texas believes it can get anyone it wants, and it’s true that that is a program with more and better resources than any school in the country, including a phenomenal high school recruiting ground in its back yard.
But several years ago, I was writing about Notre Dame, and the Irish power boys felt they could get whoever they wanted, too. Then Urban Meyer said no thanks. Then Jon Gruden. And eventually, Notre Dame fell all the way to Charlie Weis, who had never been a head coach at any level and had roughly zero college coaching experience.
I have my own guess about Saban – that he’ll stay at Alabama. But there are legitimate reasons for Alabama fans to be on edge. Saban did chew out students for leaving before games were over. His wife, Terry, did tell the Wall Street Journal that sometimes fans get so used to winning big that they don’t appreciate it anymore.
That’s one way of saying Saban feels underappreciated.
It's hard to get past Sexton telling Texas' officials last winter that Saban would be interested. And not long before accepting the Alabama job, Saban did say “I will not be the Alabama coach.’’
At some point, an offer is just too good. Texas plans to get to that point.
This can’t last long. Saban has been on the road recruiting this week and, a source told me, was in damage-control mode, telling recruits he’s staying at Alabama. He plans to be in New York with quarterback A.J. McCarron this weekend for the Heisman Trophy award ceremony but also has 14 recruits coming to Tuscaloosa over the weekend who he’ll need to visit.
He’s going about life as Alabama’s coach. This doesn’t sound like a guy who has accepted the Texas job already, but that’s just putting 2 and 2 together.
Between Texas and Alabama, this could be the greatest bidding war in coaching history. But that’s just a guess.