Nick Saban

Speculation again connects Nick Saban to the Browns

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Unfortunately for an Alabama football team preparing for what could be a third BCS championship in four years, it’s back.

The “it” in the latest rumor mill churning is speculation connecting Alabama head coach Nick Saban to a return to the NFL in general and to the Cleveland Browns specifically.  In the months since confirmation surfaced in August that Jimmy Haslam was purchasing the Browns, the speculative thought process was the new owner would bring in Joe Banner as his new team president — he did — who would in turn hire Mike Lombardi as his new general manager — he might — who would in turn at least attempt to bring his old Cleveland buddy Saban in as head coach.

That was the under-the-surface speculation, anyway.  Which the Boston Globe decided Sunday to bring to the surface with some fire to go along with the smoke.

In the Globe‘s report that focuses mainly on a potential Lombardi return to football management, and citing two unnamed NFL sources, Greg Bedard writes that “Saban has let it be known that if he returns to the NFL… it would likely be with Lombardi playing Pioli to his Belichick.”  First and foremost, Saban has let it be known that he’d consider a return to the NFL, where he failed miserably in his only stint with the Miami Dolphins?  The fact that a move back to the NFL would be part of Saban’s thought process as he’s preparing for a fourth BCS title-game appearance stretches the bounds of reason to the point of breakage.

Secondly, this “situation” is dot-connecting at its best.

Saban, a defensive back at Kent State in his collegiate playing days, was part of the ill-fated early-90’s Browns organization that included Lombardi, Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick.  The latter two famously reunited in New England, with Pioli serving as “general manager” while Belichick held final say over personnel decisions during the Patriots’ run of Super Bowl success.  With Lombardi reportedly in play as the future GM in Cleveland, and with Banner preferring a head coach having final say on personnel, dangling the NFL/Browns/Lombardi/personnel carrot in front of Saban could be enough to prompt the best coach in the best situation at the FBS level to “take the plunge again,” Bedard reports.

Why Saban, who was 15-17 with the Dolphins before leaving for Tuscaloosa — after he wasn’t — would “let it be known” that he’s open to a departure back to the big-boy league is unclear.  It certainly wouldn’t be money; at nearly $5.5 million annually, Saban is the highest-paid coach in college football.  A chance at redeeming his only coaching failure at any level?  Perhaps, although there’s clearly no love lost between Saban and the next level.

What is crystal clear, though, is how Saban’s better half views any type of speculation that has her husband headed somewhere other than Tuscaloosa.

“To answer your question [of her Saban having any interest in rebuilding another college program or returning to the NFL] and get right to the point, no. We’re very comfortable here. We love it here. It’s a great fit for our family. It’s a good fit for me. As far as we’re concerned, this is where we’ll retire someday.

“As far as jobs go, this is it for us. I don’t mean to be presumptuous. I would have to talk this over with Nick, but as far as I’m concerned, this is it.”

Those were the comments made by Terry Saban, the coach’s wife, during a radio interview two days before the Globe‘s report reared its head.  “This is it” has a very definitive finality to it; to be fair, so did “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach” two weeks before he was.

Because of that distant past, Saban could in the near future find himself in damned if he does, damned if doesn’t territory if the Globe‘s report and other speculation continues to grow legs.  Damned if he unequivocally denies the Browns speculation (PAWWWLLL, IT’S 2006 AGAIN!!! ROLLTIDE!!!), and damned if he doesn’t (PAWWWLLL, SILENCE IS THE FIRST ACT OF A TRAITOR!!! ROLLTIDE!!!).

All the while preparing his Alabama team for an unprecedented three titles in a four-year span in the BCS era.  “Troll Tide” indeed.

Arizona signee My-King Johnson set to become FBS’ first active openly gay scholarship player

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats watches from the sidelines during the Territorial Cup college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona signee My-King Johnson probably caught most Wildcats’ fans attention with his impressive name when it was listed among the 23 signees for the football program on National Signing Day.

The 6-3, 225 pound defensive end’s name is set to become a little more well known however.

In a story on Saturday in the Arizona Daily Star, Johnson confirmed that he would become the first active openly gay scholarship player in FBS when he enrolls over the summer down in Tucson.

“I do feel like when I say that, it can put a target on my back,” Johnson told the paper about going public with his sexuality. “But whatever.”

Johnson is far from the only gay athlete to play major college football but does appear to be one of the first to go public on the matter prior to suiting up for a major program. Missouri’s Michael Sam came out once he entered the NFL Draft. Just up the road in Tempe, where Johnson went to high school, Arizona State walk-on Chip Sarafin told his teammates in 2014.

From the Daily Star:

When Johnson told UA assistant Vince Amey about his sexuality while being recruited, the coach’s reaction — “We want you to be a Wildcat” — was exactly what he wanted to hear.

Johnson picked the Wildcats despite offers from numerous FBS programs, including many in the Pac-12. Perhaps coincidentally, he really jumped on the radar of the coaching staff when he sacked quarterback Rhett Rodriguez, an Arizona signee himself (and the son of head coach Rich Rodriguez), three times in a high school game.

It certainly seems as though Johnson is very comfortable telling his story to a wider audience than just his teammates and coaches by doing the interview with the Daily Star and the environment down in Tucson has been very welcoming to all the new attention that it will bring. As the Wildcats begin spring practice this month, chances are the coaching staff is probably just as excited about the prospect of Johnson making an instant impact on defense this fall after seeing plenty of issues on that side of the ball during a 3-9 campaign in 2016.

Central Michigan AD taking same position at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Wide receiver Samajie Grant #10 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates after scoring on a two yard rushing touchdown against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the fourth quarter of the Territorial Cup college football game at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona has its replacement for former athletic director Greg Byrne.

Central Michigan AD Dave Heeke is set to take the same position in Tucson with the Wildcats, the school announced Saturday afternoon.

“I couldn’t be more excited to be part of the Arizona Athletics family. It is truly an honor to be named the new Vice President for Athletics and have the opportunity to return to the prestigious Pac-12 Conference,” Heeke said in a release. “I want to thank Dr. Hart and those involved with the search process for their confidence in my ability to lead one of the premiere athletics departments in the country. This program is about excellence and we will continue to focus on achieving at the very highest level athletically and academically, while creating the finest experience in the country for our student-athletes.

Heeke has been in Mount Pleasant since early 2006 and found plenty of success with the MAC school across numerous sports. In football, he notably hired Butch Jones to replace Brian Kelly when the latter left for Cincinnati and has seen the Chippewas make a bowl game eight times during his tenure.

While he is a Michigan native, he’s no stranger to the way things operate out West having spent 18 years at Oregon. While he held a variety of roles in Eugene, he eventually became a senior associate athletic director with the Ducks before departing for CMU.

Arizona had a vacancy in their athletic leadership ever since Byrne left to become Alabama’s AD not long after the national title game in January.

UTEP’s Theron Aych named new receivers coach at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10:  Wide receiver Trey Griffey #5 of the Arizona Wildcats catches the ball in front of defensive back Jaterious Pouncey #48 of the Grambling State Tigers for a 34 yard touchdown in the third quarter at Arizona Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Spring practice is already underway in Tucson but it took until the end of this week for Arizona to finally have a complete offensive coaching staff.

The Wildcats announced on Saturday that Theron Aych would be taking over as the team’s new receivers coach, filling a vacancy created when Tony Dews left for West Virginia.

Aych helped provide a nice boost to the Miners’ passing game in his one season in El Paso and spent five seasons at Division II Angelo State prior to that. He served as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach with the Rams during his five-year stint before moving up to the FBS level.

The Pac-12 is no new experience for Aych though, as he served as a graduate assistant at Washington over a decade ago.

Aych should have his work cut out for him this spring with the team featuring plenty of young players at the receiver position while also dealing with the loss of standouts like Trey Griffey and reliable veteran Nate Phillips both gone.

Colorado rounds out new defensive staff with hire of former Purdue DC Ross Els

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 22:  Head coach Mike MacIntyre of the Colorado Buffaloes looks on prior to the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks defeated the Buffaloes 44-10.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Just in the nick of time, Mike MacIntyre has rounded out his new defensive staff for the 2017 season.

The Buffaloes announced on Friday evening that former Purdue defensive coordinator Ross Els would be joining the program and serving as inside linebackers coach. The release notes that Els’ paperwork was completed in time for him to join the team for their second practice of spring ball.

“Coach Ross Els brings a lot of energy,” MacIntyre said.  “He has great experience as a coordinator, positions coach and special teams coach, and we’re really excited about having his expertise in those phases in our program.”

Els adds plenty of experience to Boulder, having coached linebackers at New Mexico State, Ohio and Nebraska. In addition, he was the Boilermakers’ defensive coordinator  and safeties coach last season.

The move completes the staff for the Buffs after seeing a number of coaches depart to Oregon with former coordinator Jim Leavitt.