University of Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Saban stands next to Coaches' Trophy after team beat Notre Dame in NCAA college football 2013 Discover BCS National Championship game in Fort Lauderdale

Saban again denies NFL interest, says ‘this is where I belong’

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Wherever there’s a football dynasty being built, there’s an architect behind its construction.  And, in the case of the Alabama dynasty — and make no mistake, that’s exactly what it is — Nick Saban‘s fingerprints are all over the Tide.

The Tide as a team and Saban as a head coach are the standard-bearers in today’s game, and the empirical data is irrefutable.  Two straight BCS titles — the only team to accomplish that — and three in four years, with a shot at three straight and four in five with a plethora of talent returning in 2013.  Of the last eight BCS championships, a Saban-coached team has won four of them, leaving the 61-year-old coach just two titles behind the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant for the most ever.

In the background of the building and maintaining of a football juggernaut, though, is the constant hum of NFL noise.

It was there in the run-up to the BCS championship game, which both Saban and his wife attempted to stamp out to no avail.  It was there in the postgame following the throttling of Notre Dame as well.  And, once again, Saban attempted tamp out whatever embers of a move to the NFL may still be smoldering.

At a celebratory press conference Tuesday morning, Saban was again asked about what if any future he has in the professional ranks.

“How many times do you think I’ve been asked this question?” Saban said according to the Birmingham News. “How many times do you think I’ve been asked to put it to rest? And I’ve put it to rest and you continue to (ask) it. …

“I kind of learned through that experience [with the Miami Dolphins] that maybe this is where I belong. I’m really happy and at peace with all of that. No matter how many times I say that, you all don’t believe it. I don’t know why I keep talking about it.”

Of course, Saban knows exactly why people continue to talk about the NFL even as he continually denies interest in a return.  Simply put, Saban will never completely live down his strident “I’m not going to be the Alabama head coach” line two weeks before he was the Alabama head coach.

That’s not on the media, that’s on Saban for publicly painting himself into that corner back in December of 2006.

What is on the media, though, is clinging to the notion that, because he went 15-17 during his two years with the Dolphins, Saban has some unfinished business as far as the NFL is concerned.  That he simply couldn’t stand the lone stain on his otherwise sterling coaching résumé and would need to return to right that wrong.

Saban has steadfastly denied that’s the case, and laid out in perhaps the clearest terms yet exactly why he prefers college over the professional ranks.

“Somewhere along the lines you learn a lot from the experiences of what you’ve done in the past,” he said. “I came to the Miami Dolphins eight years ago for the best owner, the best person I’ve ever had the opportunity to work for. In the two years I was here, I had a very, very difficult time thinking I would impact the organization the way I wanted to and the way I was able to in college. It was very difficult for me.

“There’s a lot of parity in the NFL, there’s a lot of rules in the NFL. People say you can draft the players you want to draft. You draft the player that’s there when you pick. Might not be the player you need, might not be the player you want. You’ve got salary cap issues. We had them here. You’ve got to have a quarterback. We had a chance to get one here, sort of messed it up.”

And therein lies the reason why there’s (almost) no chance that you will ever see Saban, especially as the years tick off the calendar, on an NFL sideline in anything but a spectating role.  Certainly there will be suitors from that level who will inquire about Saban’s availability — the Cleveland Browns will make a run at him in the coming days, if they haven’t already — but they can expect the same answer myriad others have received over the past few seasons.

No thanks. And Roll Tide…

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.