January 6, 2013

Commentary: Saban's simply priceless

By MIKE KERN Philadelphia Daily News

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Nick Saban gets paid a whole bunch of money to do his thing. More than a few people thought maybe Alabama had given him too much, when they pried him away from the Dolphins after the 2006 season. After, of course, Saban said he would never leave Miami. Those folks, obviously, would be wrong. Because whatever Saban is making in Tuscaloosa, he's a bargain.

I mean, how do you properly put a value on restoring a legacy? In less time than it takes to say Bear Bryant?

Crazy? Perhaps. But think about where the program was before Saban decided to break his word at the pro level, where ironically he might be headed back to at some point, maybe even soon, if he loses interest in competing for a national title every season. Surely you remember Mike DuBose. Or was that Dennis Franchione? It could have even been Mike Shula. The only common denominator was none of them were Gene Stallings, who at least managed to get Alabama its lone title in the quarter-century between Bryant's retirement and Saban's arrival.

Some day, someone's going to have to succeed Saban. Good luck with that. We can only assume Ray Perkins is no longer available.

Bottom line is, only three men have won four titles: Bryant, Notre Dame's Frank Leahy and Southern Cal's John McKay. If the Crimson Tide does what the oddsmakers expect them to Monday night, which is beat a Notre Dame team that has defied the odds, Saban will have back-to-back titles and his third in four seasons. Nobody in the soon-to-be-a-thing-of-the-past BCS era has ever gone back-to-back.

The last team to win three of four was Nebraska in the mid 1990s, and one of those was shared. (Penn State would argue that a second should have been.) Before that you have to go all the way back to Leahy's teams in the 1940s. And that's it for the poll era, which began in 1936.

But Saban also won it all in 2003 in his next-to-last year at LSU. So one more would give him four in the last eight years he's been employed at this level. Which seems impossible. But college football is a coach's game. Bodies are replenished. The guy in charge defines just about everything. All you have to do is hire the right one, no matter what the cost.

Want to know the scary part? The Tide would have played for the title in 2008, too, if it had beaten No. 1 Florida in the SEC final. OK, that might be getting greedy. But know this as well: This stuff can be fragile. Ask Pete Carroll. Going into the 2005 final against Texas, people were talking about him at USC the same way. Then he lost, and it was never quite the same. Now he's back in the NFL, where, like Saban, he hadn't enjoyed the same success. Maybe that's about to change. And maybe Saban will be joining him there.

For even better compensation, naturally.

All he has to do is beat Notre Dame, and he'll have taken it up yet another notch. But if he doesn't, well, all of a sudden there's a chink in the armor. It doesn't have to be fair.

Who knows? If he sticks around for, say, another six years, he might have a decent shot at two or three more. You think he could be contemplating that in, say, Cleveland?

For his part, Saban says all the right things. Not that you can always take them to the bank. Anyway, he won't be confused with a sound bite. That's OK. It's not in his job description.

"Coach had a plan, as to exactly how he was going to do it," said fifth-year senior center Barrett Jones, a three-time All-America. "You just believe it ... Obviously it's worked out."

The only downside? Too much can never be enough. It's the price you pay for those big bucks.

 

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