by Kent Sterling
There is one player at the table with a very tall stack of chips in front of him in the Nick Saban sweepstakes, and that is Nick Saban.
There is nothing Alabama officials and fans would like more than for Saban to sign the extension to his current deal, but Saban has balked, and the reason is pretty simple to understand. He waits because he can.
Alabama is in no position to strong-arm Saban into signing, so the coach most coveted by Texas as a potential replacement for Mack Brown waits.
If Brown steps down by the end of the week, as is anticipated, Saban will doubtless receive an exceptional offer by the best funded athletic department in collegiate athletics. That offer will determine Saban’s value, and then Saban will be able to evaluate the respective tenders outside of the vacuum that currently exists.
Texas has exceptionally deep pockets, and a network of its own to fill with compelling programming, and that means football. Without competing for a spot in the national championship playoff that will begin next season, the Longhorns leave millions on the table.
A Saban decision to move to Texas would be a huge boon to the school’s ability to monetize the Longhorn Network, and that is the name of the game.
Saban is a businessman at the same level he is a football coach. Knowing that loyalty is a weakness in negotiation has helped Saban take the necessary leaps to be branded the best college coach in America, and if Alabama is naive enough to believe that Saban will evaluate his options through a prism other than the cold calculation of potential dollars, cents, and esteem they don’t understand how a great strategic mind works.
The people in Alabama athletics are no dummies themselves, and they know exactly who Saban is. The preemptive offer of an extension is nothing more than an effort to keep fans from rioting should the Crimson Tide not be able to match the offer from Austin.
At auction, the bidder with the deepest pockets wins, and with total revenue of $163,295,115, Texas athletics makes more than anyone else. Alabama is no slouch with the fourth ranked total revenue – $124,899,945. But no slouch doesn’t necessarily buy a seat at the big boy table.
One thing to remember is that athletic directors like to keep their jobs as much as anyone else, and Bill Battle has been on the job at Alabama for less one year, and if he loses Saban, he is going to pay. Battle is an Alabaman who played for Bear Bryant, but losing the best coach since the Bear to a rival school over a few dollars is the kind of decision that ends careers. That’s called motivation.
Steve Patterson was hired to be the AD at Texas less than a month ago, and making a big splash as he replaces Brown would be a great first step toward building equity with a fan base that has grown tired of not being in the National Championship conversation.
A record of 30-20 over the last four years and back-to-back trips to the Alamo Bowl has resulted in a burnt orange dyspeptic ulcer in the collective stomach of Longhorn fans, and hiring the man regarded as America’s best college football coach would serve as a regular dose of Prevacid.
Whatever happens, expect it to be coldly evaluated and patiently executed on Saban’s timetable. That’s how he rolls, who he is, and the kind of diligence for which the winner will pay an unprecedented price.
The next month will be fascinating in Tuscaloosa and Austin, and will be very, very profitable in the Saban household. That’s the reward for being branded as the very best at what you do.