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.