Quietly, there’s a train of thought that every coach and AD around the SEC, outside of Alabama, has probably had creep into their mind at some point recently.
“Hang on until Nick Saban retires or moves on from Alabama and then we’ll have a shot.”
It’s a defeatist mindset, and not one that anybody will confess to having, but you know it’s pervasive as other programs have watched Saban and the Tide mow down the rest of of the league on a consistent basis for the last decade or so.
It’s at Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M and any other West program with division title aspirations. And it crosses over to the East, where programs such as Tennessee, Florida and Georgia know that winning the East might be the realistic ceiling for now while Saban is at his current post. It’s especially tough on Auburn and Tennessee – schools that count themselves as rivals to the Tide and know they will be judged year-in and year-out on their performance against Saban.
New Alabama AD Greg Byrne and the Alabama Board of Trustees smashed that thought and threw it out the window with the stroke of a pen on Tuesday. Alabama locked Saban down to an extension that will give him a $4 million signing bonus on top of his already lucrative almost-$7 million per year deal. But the big number of interest is that Saban is scheduled to receive a $3.6 million retention bonus following the 2021 season.
Why would the 65-year old Saban and his agent ask for that big of a carrot in the deal at that particular point? Logic says that he’s planning to be at Alabama at least that long.
And now SEC opponents must adjust accordingly.
Waiting Saban out won’t be an option for coaches and ADs that have a win-or-else mandate from fans.
Simply put, every AD in the SEC that may have a coaching decision to make next fall must look a hard look and ask if their coach has a realistic chance at competing with Alabama. If the answer is no, they must go out and find one that doe (or at least has a better shot), or else they’re essentially admitting that they’re not playing for championships.
ADs and coaches alike should feel the heat because of that. If Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin can’t win the West – or at least come extremely close to it – in 2017, is there any reason for A&M AD Scott Woodward to believe that he’ll be ready to take down Saban in the next five years or so? The same questions could arise for John Currie with Butch Jones at Tennessee and perhaps other schools such as Auburn and/or Florida if they don’t live up to standards this year.
And looming large over all of this is potential mega-coaching free agent candidate Chip Kelly.
After a failed stint in the NFL, the former architect of a championship-caliber era at Oregon might be available for the taking in the college ranks again starting this year. There’s no definitive proof that Kelly could come in to any SEC program and knock Saban off his pedestal, but he’s certainly a better bet than taking a chance on a mid-tier coach or a coordinator, or hanging on to a coach that has consistently shown that he can’t get the job done.
Will some school realize that Saban isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and throw an exorbitant amount of money at Kelly, or perhaps somebody not on the radar right now, in an effort to try and compete toe-to-toe with the Tide?
It wouldn’t be surprising.
Alabama took the step this week to assure itself of being a top-tier program for years to come. Other SEC schools that aren’t living up to that standard could have a complex decision to make late next fall – either make a move to try and compete at that same level, or be content to play for second place for many years to come.