Over the weekend, both Peter King and I spent time kicking tires and shaking branches on the question of whether Alabama coach Nick Saban will at some point soon not be the Alabama coach and instead coach an NFL team.
King learned that the likelihood of Saban shedding the Tide for the Browns in the coming weeks remains extremely small if not nonexistent. I learned that Saban currently hasn’t percolated to the top of the NFL “A” list because no one believes he’s ready to return to pro football.
On Monday, Saban spent time talking about his last time in the NFL, explaining that he wanted Drew Brees over Daunte Culpepper but that Brees failed a physical, due to a shoulder injury suffered on the final day of the 2005 regular season. Though Saban also said he intends to stay in Tuscaloosa, Saban’s credibility on these matters forever was forfeited in late December 2006, when he declared over and over (and over) again that he wouldn’t be returning to the college ranks. Not long before he did.
And so, as Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports points out, the signals are mixed; one source says that Saban will never return to the NFL while another says that Saban is on the short list to be hired by the Browns not long after the BCS national title game.
Which could mean that Saban is at least toying with the idea of another NFL run. Which could be aimed solely at squeezing even more money out of the football program that he has made the most successful in the nation.
Ultimately, Saban has to choose between trying to continue to climb the same mountain that he has scaled multiple times and chasing a championship at the highest level of the sport. Until he wins in the NFL, Saban won’t have the true respect of his former peers.
In the end, that’s what could pull him back, at some point. Coaches like Paterno and Bowden and Bryant never worried about the NFL because the NFL never was part of their universe. For Saban, he knows that the guys he worked with and against in pro football don’t and won’t view him as a truly great coach until he can win in the NFL.
Of course, going to a team with a great quarterback would go a long way toward helping Saban become a great coach. In the end, then, the question of whether he goes back to the NFL could hinge on whether he’ll be joining a team that has the most important position on the field taken care of.
The only problem? Most teams with truly great quarterbacks aren’t looking to hire a new coach.