Archive for Friday, January 5, 2007

Commentary: Saban’s contract should open vaults

January 5, 2007

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— If Nick Saban, a losing NFL coach and a proven liar, is going back to college to make an estimated $30 million to $40 million at the University of Alabama, then what is Ohio State coach Jim Tressel worth?

"$50 million," answered Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn.

If Saban, who parlayed a 6-10 record with the Miami Dolphins this season, into a $30 million to $40 million deal that is the highest in the history of college football, then what is Florida coach Urban Meyer worth?

"$100 million," Florida defensive end Ray McDonald said and chuckled.

Don't laugh. College football salaries someday could reach such preposterous proportions in the wake of Saban bolting the Dolphins on Wednesday. The seismic effects of his earthshaking deal with Alabama could be felt all the way out in Arizona where Florida and Ohio State are preparing to play for the national title.

On the surface, it's unfathomable Alabama would pay Saban more than $4 million a year. After all, as a pro coach, Saban was a stupefying failure. I wrote when the Dolphins hired Saban that he would mimic the success of his mentor and become the next Bill Belichick. Who knew he wouldn't even be as good as the old Dave Wannstedt?

Let's review the major developments of Saban's two-year tenure:

He brought Ricky Williams back after he quit the team following a drug suspension three years ago. Result: A public-relations nightmare when Williams again was suspended from the league for failing a drug test.

He chose quarterback Daunte Culpepper over Drew Brees. Result: Culpepper was a flop and still is injured. Brees, now with the Saints, has an MVP-caliber season.

He repeatedly denied he would leave the Dolphins and even said on Dec. 21: "I guess I have to say it: I am not going to be the Alabama coach." I guess what he meant was, "I am not going to be the Alabama coach - today."

Not that fibbing is any great sin in coaching. In fact, Saban probably was just prepping for his foray back into college recruiting, where the motto is: "If you ain't lyin', you ain't tryin.'"

Alabama, of course, is gambling that Saban, who won a national title at LSU, is a much more effective college coach than a pro coach. Saban is just one of the long list of college coaches - in both football and basketball - who couldn't cut it at the next level. Great college coaches such as Steve Spurrier and Rick Pitino found out it's much easier to motivate an underprivileged kid whose family lives in poverty than it is a millionaire who lives in a mansion.

It's like Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops once told me: "Once an NFL game is over, you can't tell who's won or lost unless they flash the score on the TV screen. All the players from both teams are laughing and hugging each other."

The people you saw laughing and hugging Wednesday in the wake of Saban's landmark contract were other members of the college coaching fraternity. As Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said when told of the Saban deal: "Isn't this good for all of us?"

Florida's SEC rival is paying its coach $4 million a year, and don't think other coaches around the league haven't noticed. Meyer saw a brief snippet regarding Saban's financial package on TV Wednesday and couldn't believe it.

"I saw it," the Florida coach said, "and my first reaction was, 'My goodness, where is it going to stop?'"

Let Urban Meyer win the national championship, and we might find out.

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