Nick Saban will walk away one day, ending his career at Alabama. The questions are when and with what legacy?
Nick Saban’s Legacy at Alabama, Will it End and When?
By: Larry Burton
This season Nick Saban turns 62, albeit a young and energetic 62, it’s still a number when when people in the coaching fraternity start thinking about their end game and exit strategies. It’s also a time when coaches start thinking about their legacy, not just to the game, but to the place they’ll call “home” once they hang up their whistle for the last time.
Nick Saban has come to a point in his career where he just doesn’t want to be a superstar coach, he wants to be someone’s superstar legacy. That is why time after time Saban has just scoffed at reporters who have questioned him about other jobs since coming to Alabama. Saban is “home”.
I asked Coach Saban once how long he’d continue coaching and if Alabama was his last stop in that career. His answer was short and insightful and gave a glimpse of the man that many think they know, but actually only his wife Terri knows.
“There is no next stop in my career. My next stop will be to Lake Burton.” (His current vacation home and future retirement site) Saban said without a need to think it over. “As for how long, I don’t know. As long as I’m still healthy and it’s still fun, as long as I can help this team be a winner, or until they run me off.” he finished with a smile.
He is currently under contract with the University until 2020, that will take him to age 69. Will he go further?
That contract was extended early in 2012 giving him almost 45 million dollars for the last eight years of this contract. But there are bonuses, endorsements and other revenue streams that could push his income up and over 50 million for the last eight years of the current contract. With his other investments to boot, it’s clear that Nick and Terri won’t continue working to make the house payments. Money, while something that validates a coaches hard work, won’t be the deciding thing.
Early in his career at Alabama Saban answered another question about ending his career at Alabama. “Coaching is job.” Saban told a group of us reporters. “You have to good at your jobs to keep them and so do I. I can’t sit on what I did in the past anymore than you can point to old stories you wrote to keep your job now. You try and be good enough at your job to take care of your family, but your employer wants results for their money. If you don’t do that, they’ll get rid of you and find somebody who will.” he said.
“To be good at your job, you have to love what you do and how much you love what you do shows in the results you produce. I love coaching at practice. I love the interaction with the players and the development that comes from it.” Saban continued. “As long as I have that and continue to produce winning teams, I can see myself wanting to continue coaching.”
Supposedly Saban told someone, who relayed these thoughts to me second hand, that Saban was heard to say that he didn’t want to have talk about being “forced out” like Joe Paterno, (prior to the Jerry Sandusky incident) or Bobby Bowden. That it was his intentions to leave on his own when he felt the time was right to step aside rather than subject his school to having to make that decision.
For those who think Saban wants to hang on and tie or surpass Alabama’s legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s six national titles, they do not understand what motivates Saban. He has four national titles and could be working on number five this year. So the reality that he could eclipse Bryant’s six national titles within the next eight years is extremely possible and highly probable. I’m sure Saban fully expected to pass that record, after all, he is Nick Saban, but that’s not a goal of staying at Alabama.
In yet another time during a press conference when a reporter asked a retirement question, Saban said something to the extent of he himself, didn’t have a date on a calender, or any number of wins, that he simply had no idea when that time would come. Again, it all comes down to him having fun doing his job and enjoying the fruits of these times with his team who is still winning.
So there, you’ve heard statements that all reflect roughly the same sentiment. He will stay as long as he still wins and as long as he has fun doing it.
So what could take the fun away?
Should Saban become infirmed, through injury or illness, that would certainly hasten his departure. Should Saban be forced to work with an Athletic Director he does not like or a cantankerous college president, he might leave. Also should players, boosters or school employees disregard the rules and land Saban’s team in NCAA sanctions without his knowledge of those wrongdoings, he might leave.
If Saban’s methodology and “process” stops working and fails to produce winners, or other coaches or teams start to relegate his Alabama teams to mediocrity, then he would leave. If he felt there was someone who could a better job than he is doing, he might leave.
Though the liklihood of any of those scenarios happening seem remote at this time, one thing is a fact. Saban’s days as head coach at Alabama has an expiration date on it, just like any jug of milk in your supermarket.
But whether it’s seven years from now or seventeen, the day will come and the Saban era will end.
But the legacy? It will never end.
Has the stamp Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant put on the program faded from the program or the hearts of the Alabama fans? No and it never will. The same may now be said about Saban.
The Alabama nation are living in this historic times by watching the next great legacy grow with each game of each season. The argument over which is best, Bryant or Saban, is not near as important as the fact that now there yet another pillar to help hold up the legacy of Alabama to an even higher standard. For Alabama the end result is that no matter who is placed first, the top two coaches of all time both gained their greatest fame and became legends within the confines of Bryant – Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California and for the Crimson Tide of Alabama.
The days of wondering if Saban will be as revered as Bryant is now over. He will be. The only thing left to be determined is what icon will be the most prevalent one of the Saban era.
Bryant’s was the houndstooth hat. Will Saban’s be the straw hat?
And will future teams be playing home games at Nick Saban Field at Bryant-Denny Stadium?
Such things are really all that is left to be wondered about, well that and the question of when the whistle gets hung up. Alabama is the only school to be struck by lightning twice and be rewarded with not one, but two of the top college coaches of all time. Their legacies will exist side by side in almost reverent status in the hearts and minds of the Alabama nation.
When Saban retires, the next big question that Alabama fans will dare ponder is, can lightning strike three times?
Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow Larry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter