Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Sabanic Verses

I have to admit to being somewhat conflicted about the whole Nick Saban fiasco with the Miami Dolphins. I don't see this as a Steve Spurrier kind of thing, because it quickly became clear that Spurrier had no idea whatsoever how the NFL game works; he became just another entry in the ever-lengthening list of people at whom Dan Snyder has thrown money under the mistaken belief that throwing money at people creates winning teams. Objectively, Saban screwed the Dolphins royally, and that's a bad thing. But as a Bills fan, we hate the Dolphins, so I guess I'm supposed to be glad that their organization is now a complete mess. But then, the Bills-Dolphins rivalry hasn't been anything to write about over the last few years, because all that time, either one or the other has been bad. It just hasn't been the same since the Bills and Dolphins were splitting the regular season series en route to meeting in the playoffs back in the Jim Kelly versus Dan Marino days.

But Gregg Easterbrook feels no such ambivalence. Here's the entirety of what he has to say in today's TMQ column about Saban:

Saban Points Part 1: TMQ's law of job-hopping coaches holds: When you hire a coach who's only in it for himself, you get a coach who's only in it for himself. Of all schools, Alabama should know this. In 2002, the Tide hired Mike Price away from Washington State, even as Washington State was preparing for a bowl game. That is, Alabama hired the kind of person who would walk out on his previous commitments. We all remember the fiasco that followed. Now Alabama has signed Nick Saban away from Miami, Saban walking out on his Miami commitments just two years after arriving, and just two weeks after publicly vowing he would not leave. Hall of Famer Don Shula called Saban a "liar" and a "quitter," and that was sugarcoating it! Saban walked out on LSU, then walked out on the Dolphins – once again the Tide places the mantle of Bear Bryant upon the kind of person who does not honor his commitments. What would the Bear, a man of honor, think to know the University of Alabama now hires the kind of people who break promises? TMQ predicts another Alabama fiasco. Potential Alabama recruits, bear in mind: If Saban repeatedly lied at Miami, what makes you think he will hesitate to lie to you? At least in hiring a coach who doesn't keep his word, Alabama gets someone who is a perfect fit for its program.

Saban Points Part 2: Little Nicky – Saban is short – sure came up little in the slimy way he hauled out of Miami. The fact that he left was not a problem in contract terms. His contract allowed him to return to college coaching; this was a provision Marine Mammals owner Wayne Huizenga offered Saban two years ago in order to help entice him to walk out on LSU. So Huizenga knew he was getting the kind of guy who walks out, and in doing so Saban was only exercising a contractual right. It's the way Saban walked out that makes him a sleaze.

Saban repeatedly lied about interest in the Alabama job even as his agent was negotiating with the school. And sorry Jason Taylor, "everybody does it" does not justify such deceit. Coaches in big-deal sports are paid huge sums of money in a world of poverty and want, and one rationalization for their pay is that they are supposed to set good examples for the young. What kind of example did Saban set by repeatedly lying in public? At the news conferences where he lied, Saban belittled reporters who tried to call him out. As former Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson noted, only people of low character belittle those who earn substantially less than they do. Little Nicky has a longstanding reputation of being nasty to secretaries, office assistants and others beneath his station – he's the coaching equivalent of the Meryl Streep character in "The Devil Wears Prada." And Saban was classless with his assistants. He used a speakerphone call to tell the assistant coaches he was walking out on them, lacking the courtesy, or the guts, to look them in their eyes. (Alternatively, maybe Saban feared telling his assistants in person and seeing their expressions of delight.) He informed his players he was walking out on them via e-mail. Something to think about, potential Alabama recruits – if Nick Saban decides it serves his purposes to screw you, he won't even have the manliness to say it to your face. But check your e-mail!

Saban Points Part 3: Little Nicky follows Steve Spurrier as big-deal college coaches who came to the NFL expecting championships and praise, and soon retreated to the college ranks. One thing going on here is that it's much harder to win at the NFL level than at the football-factory level. Football-factory colleges have such incredible recruiting advantages that they often take the field with two or three times as much talent as the opponent, and it's easy to look like a genius coach if your guys are far more talented. In the NFL, the talent contrast between a division winner and the division's last-place team is surprisingly small. Football-factory schedules are rigged with cupcakes, insuring even an orangutan could coach a big-deal college team to several annual wins. In the NFL there are losing teams but no cupcake teams; San Diego had to work hard to beat the Oakland Raiders, this year's worst NFL team. At the football-factory level, coaches are treated like little gods, while press coverage is adulatory; at the NFL level, coaches are under constant criticism, and the media knives are always out. One reason football-factory college coaches seem like little gods is that their advantages in recruiting and cupcake opponents allow them to have several 30-point victories every season, whereas in the NFL, even the best coaches are relieved to beat the Raiders by a touchdown. Runaway victory margins in college help coaches seem like geniuses, while the close margins of most NFL games mean even winning coaches face criticism.

You can't blame Saban and Spurrier for wanting to retreat from a life of criticism to a life on being treated like little gods. The very morning last week that Saban decided to walk out on Miami, he boarded a private jet for Alabama, where he was received by a worshipful throng as if he were Dwight Eisenhower returning from the defeat of Germany. Saban simply left his Miami problems behind, not even bothering to say goodbye to the assistants and players who depended on him. If you're a little god, you go where the worshippers are.



Kevin J. Hosey said...

Excellent post, Jaquandor, and nice way to hit on a lot of angles. I can barely think less of Saban, and he will quickly disappear from the college football radar of this Wisconsin/Big Ten fan.

Anonymous said...

Easterbrook alledges his problem is not that Saban left, but the "slimey" way in which he did it.

What was Saban supposed to do? Come out and say "Hi, there's two weeks left in the Miami season, but I'm negotiating with Alabama." And what happens if those negotiations fell through? Think his Miami players would ever put out for him again? Think fans would have shown up the next season in Miami? Nope, he would have lost the job at Alabama and Wayne Hyzienga would have had no choice but to kick him to the curb.

I find it much ado about nothing. That being said, if a Bills coach ever did such a thing I would be copying and pasting Don Shula's words on my own site.

Kelly Sedinger said...

What was Saban supposed to do?

Not negotiating with Alabama during the regular season, or not negotiating with them at all seeing as how he was already under contract to an NFL team and was actually having some success with them (overrated as they may have been before this year).

Everything about the way Saban did this indicates that he's one of those "I'm out of here as soon as something better comes along" guys. I can't stand people like that.