By Susan Elizabeth Shepard
Is it possible Nick Saban himself is tired of winning, of the unstoppable cycle of success at Alabama? No other explanation would justify the man actually leaving Tuscaloosa for Austin. Saban's future (and, to a lesser extent, Mack Brown's) has been the subject of intense speculation this week since the AP reported on the contents of a memo from former University of Texas regent Tom Hicks to his brother, current regent Steve Hicks.
In the memo, Tom Hicks wrote he was told by Saban's agent, Jimmy Sexton, "UT is the only job Nick would possibly consider leaving Alabama for." The usual denials came out of Tuscaloosa, but even the hometown beat writer couldn't resist reading into them, noting Saban said "well I don't know where these reports come from" on ESPN during his Aaron Sorkin-style walk-and-talk with Tom Rinaldi "with a smile."
While it would be really unusual to see the highest-paid head coach in college football leave his school after (potentially? presumably?) winning three consecutive titles, I could see it happening. Texas has its appeal, and its ability to throw giant sacks of money at Saban are just one component. But for each reason why it could happen, there's an equally compelling counterargument.
1. Ego Gratification
Reason for: Could anything be more impressive than creating dominant programs at successive schools? The opportunity to try to duplicate what he has done at Alabama would be too tempting to pass up. Plus, it would be great fun to do it at the very school he beat to start his series of titles at Alabama. Nice symmetry there. If Saban, like 'Bama fans, is growing tired of predictable dominance, maybe the challenge of doing it somewhere else excites him.
Reason against: If it's a true legacy Saban is after, a place in history, sustaining this run at Alabama, where he is already immortalized in statue form, would ensure it. Is there greater satisfaction than becoming a Bryant-level icon? Should that be what he wants, the way to do it is to stay put. Remain loyal, finish his career at Alabama, and go out as a beloved and immortal figure in Tide history. Even though Texas fans are a loud and proud bunch, it would be hard to replicate the kind of devotion Alabama can give.
Reason for: Saban is obsessed with recruiting, and at UT, he'd have the prime spot in Texas. Plus, he'd have the gratification of taking recruits from Texas A&M. There is no way the appeal of access to one of the biggest and best talent pools in the country is lost on him. With the hiring of Steve Patterson as Texas' new AD, he'd be able to present the school as ascendant as well as historically powerful, too.
Reason against: For all its advantages, Texas is in the Big 12, a conference that has seen some major attrition in the past three years. The SEC has been so dominant for so long it is the consensus most desireable place to play. If he's going to recruit in Texas, he's going to need to believe the conference will be ascendant, and that's far from a given.
Reason for: It's Texas, it's fancy, it's rich. Yes, Tuscaloosa has lore like no other, but it doesn't have the glitter of a freshly burnished, rolling-in-endowments program like Texas. Texas' national reputation is somewhat larger than its collective national championships justify, and it's the most visible program in the nation thanks to its massive, dominant merchandise sales. It has its own television network, and even though the debut of the Longhorn Network caused much unrest in the Big 12, Saban has to respect UT's insistence on getting its way.
Reason against: At a program like Texas, a coach who doesn't gladhand alumni and donors is going to have a tough time of it. Mack Brown is obligated to be on the Longhorn Network on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Mondays between his weekly radio show, his game preview show and his recap show. "Game Plan with Nick Saban?" "Rewind With Nick Saban?" That's a lot of screen time, and time away from real work, to sell the man on. He'd have to be a professional personality, and an appealing one, to play right at UT and keep the people happy.
Reason for: While I'm not going to say Austin is perfect, when you compare it to any college town in the Big 12 or SEC, it's far and away the jewel of the bunch. It's not just a college town, it's a thriving city in the middle of the prettiest part of Texas, the Hill Country, and the state capital, which means the media occasionally focuses on things other than college football. Certainly during her recent visit, Terry Saban gained an appreciation for what Austin has to offer compared to Tuscaloosa. Plus, daughter Kristen Saban, with her work in marketing and event planning and penchant for partying, would love, L-O-V-E Sixth Street.
Reason against: It's a party town, and Saban's the opposite of a party guy. He's a teetotaler, a habit you can expect to have questioned in a surprisingly hard-drinking city. Saban also doesn't scream "natural fit" for Austin's Texas-style social liberalism. It's hard to picture him relaxing in the Hill Country, even. And a bigger city means more potential trouble for players to get into off of the field. A more cosmopolitan city isn't necessarily a draw.
Reason for: Saban's birthday famously falls on October 31, making him a Scorpio. I'm not an astrology true believer, but when I went to check his November horoscope on Susan Miller's website, what I saw was eerie:
"November opens with a new moon solar eclipse in Scorpio on November 3... This solar eclipse may bring news about a new career position, for the Sun, being the main part of this event, is the natural ruler of your solar tenth house of career success...The end of the month, November 30, will bring the Sun and Uranus in ideal sync. This aspect will bring all sorts of benefits. You may hear, just prior to this day, that your career is again bringing in good news. You may get a new position or a plum assignment... If you need to move, you'll have a superb time to find a space, or to actually make your move to a new residence."
Crazy, right? A new career position, a plum assignment, a move. Saban's wife was rumored to be househunting in Austin, remember. It looks like the stars are aligned for a move to Texas!
Reason against: Mack Brown, a Virgo, has a similarly intense prediction:
"A friend and perhaps a club you belong to will be helpful to you. Communities and groups seem to work to your favor, and one group may want to help you, so see how you can integrate that information into your life. ... Having Mars in your sign will truly be a big plus for you because you will find that most people will go along with your plans and not challenge you. ... One grand, standout day for you will be November 18 when Mars, now in Virgo, will reach out to Jupiter in Cancer. That's when you are most likely to see how much a friend cares about your future. You will likely see that your friend is willing to go to bat for you, and this will touch your heart."
Ah, perhaps that friend is Brown's lawyer Joe Jamail, billionaire UT alum and attorney, the man for whom the actual football field is named, and the guy Brown called after his chat with Hicks to ask the heavy about his contract.
Of course, as we all know, Mercury is in retrograde until November 10th, which means that communications can get jumbled, and we should parse everything we've heard between October 21 and November 10th with that in mind.
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Susan Elizabeth Shepard is a writer in Austin. She is also a fourth-generation University of Texas graduate.