Saban a Buckeye? Don’t laugh
Urban Meyer should not coach the Ohio State Buckeyes football team again, if there is any justice and morality in this world. He knew one of his golden boys, Zach Smith, was a woman abuser and covered it up. Meyer must not be allowed to roam the sidelines at Ohio Stadium, or any other college football field, again. He’s certainly not going to go poor in retirement.
Obviously, if the Ohio State job comes open, there will be a free-for-all as to who will be Meyer’s replacement. If I am OSU president Michael Drake, there is one name I put at the top of my list.
His name is Nicholas Lou Saban.
Yes, I did not stutter.
THAT Nick Saban, the one who has built Alabama so grandiose it has eclipsed that of Bear Bryant in the minds of many Crimson Tide fans and college football experts. That’s another debate for another post.
If Saban’s Crimson Tide wins the national championship this season, it will be six in 10 seasons, matching the total Bryant won in 19 seasons (1961-79), although two of Bryant’s (’73 and ’78) were split, and the ’73 title, along with ’64, saw Alabama lose its bowl game after being crowned national champion when a selector (or selectors) did not take another poll following the bowl games. Saban’s five so far are undisputed, including two in the College Football Playoff era.
Saban is the highest paid coach in college football, making at least $11 million per season, but he isn’t lacking for money. His kids are grown, and he and Terry now have grandchildren they can spoil. Saban, who turns 67 this Halloween, has surprised many by staying so long in Tuscaloosa after being so nomadic during the first 34 years of his coaching career, never staying more than five seasons in any place.
This will be Saban’s 12th season in Tuscaloosa. Why would he want to leave now?
In my opinion, the Ohio State position is the only one Saban should ever consider leaving Alabama for. Some thought he was considering Texas when it forced Mack Brown into retirement a few years ago, but it turns out those were only pipe dreams by the Longhorn faithful, many of whom have deeper pockets than anyone could dream of having.
As much of a monolith Alabama has become under Saban, and was under Bryant, Ohio State matches the Crimson Tide in many areas, and in some, the Buckeyes are superior.
First, there are many more people in Ohio than Alabama. The population of the Buckeye state according to a 2016 estimate was 11.67 million, compared to 4.88 million for Alabama.
Ohio is a gold mine for high school football players. The vast majority of the greatest Buckeyes prepped in their home state before making their way to Columbus to play for Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel, Meyer and some of the less successful coaches (Earle Bruce, John Cooper). The dream of most Ohio boys who play football is to don the scarlet and gray and come out of the tunnel at “The Horseshoe”. There may be pockets of Michigan fans near Toledo, and some who are loyal to the smaller schools in the state (Cincinnati, Toledo, Miami, et al), but Ohio State is THE school in the Buckeye State.
Alabama doesn’t have that luxury. It has to contend with another SEC power, Auburn, on the other side of the state. And Mobile is so close to Florida State, Florida and LSU that it routinely gets picked clean and the Crimson Tide can’t get all of the top talent there.
The Big Ten is considered the far superior conference academically among the Power Five. Northwestern is one of the most prestigious private schools in the United States. Michigan is considered a “Public Ivy”. Wisconsin has a strong academic reputation. So do Ohio State, Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State, although there’s still damage control going on in State College in the wake of Jerry Sandusky.
The SEC’s strongest academic schools are Vanderbilt and Florida. Alabama has seen an explosion in enrollment in recent years and is now the second most selective school of the 14 members of the conference, only behind Vandy, but the Mississippi schools really can’t raise their academic profiles as much as they’d like, given how poor the state is and how bad the education system is there.
Money is not an issue. Ohio State’s football budget is on par, if not more, than Alabama’s. The revenues produced by the Big Ten’s TV rights deals are equal, if not more than those in the SEC. The Big Ten Network is in more homes than the SEC Network, where many cable operators outside the SEC geographical footprint have refused to carry another ESPN owned network due to the high fees ESPN charges cable companies to carry it.
Actually, I think Saban has it easier in the SEC West than he would in the Big Ten East. I just don’t see Gus Malzahn sustaining the level of success at Auburn he enjoyed last year and in 2013, when it almost won the national championship. LSU has struggled badly against Alabama, and unfortunately for me, that doesn’t look like it will change any time soon. Arkansas and Mississippi State don’t have the resources to consistently win big. Ole Miss is going to have to rebuild after probation, and
The only potential challenger to Alabama’s iron grip on the SEC West (where the Tide and Auburn should not be, but that’s another blog post) is Texas A&M under Jimbo Fisher. However, Fisher has to deal with Texas in his own backyard, and TCU isn’t going anywhere as long as Gary Patterson is in charge. And what if Houston were to go to a Power Five conference?
In the Big Ten East, Michigan has been nothing but a big winner for the most part since Bo Schembechler’s day. Michigan State has been mostly good to very good under Mark Dantonio. Penn State appears to be on the straight and narrow again under James Franklin. Then again, the bottom of the Big Ten East–Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers–is pretty bad. Most of the West, Wisconsin excepted, can’t get its act together.
Again, I don’t think Saban is leaving Tuscaloosa.
The reason: the lady Nick Saban has been married to for almost 47 years.
Terry Saban is one of the most beloved women in the state’s history, right up there with Bryant’s wife, Mary Harmon; Lurleen Wallace, George’s wife who served briefly as governor when her husband could not run in the mid 1960s; Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, and of course, Helen Keller.
It is well known Terry Saban loves Tuscaloosa. She loves being the city’s queen bee. She loves living in close-knit college towns, and even though Tuscaloosa isn’t exactly Manhattan (the one in Kansas), Starkville or Stillwater, it still is a far cry from Columbus, which is now Ohio’s largest city and also has the state government. In that regard, Columbus is Baton Rouge (or Lincoln) on steroids. I don’t think Terry would enjoy Columbus as much, and that’s the biggest reason why Nick wouldn’t go to Ohio State.
On the other hand, Nick and Terry still have plenty of family in their native West Virginia, and Columbus is a lot closer to them than Tuscaloosa.
That said, Michael Drake should do all he can to try and lure Saban to Columbus. Drake should force Nick Saban to look him in the eye and say thanks but no thanks. It can’t hurt and would show Ohio State is committed to doing whatever it takes to keep Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State at bay.
First, Dr. Drake had better get it right and send Urban Meyer packing. That”s the biggest hurdle. If Meyer is allowed to return, then it shows Drake and Ohio State are in the football business for two reasons, money and titles, and not for truly educating young men, which would be a damn shame.
Of course, if Saban wants a REAL challenge, he could go to Ohio…back to his alma mater, Kent State.