During a sit-down interview with ESPN three weeks ago, Alabama athletic director Bill Battle was kind enough to retrace the how and why of Nick Saban’s new contract, which became official Tuesday afternoon.
It was, as it turns out, a tedious process.
Battle and the administration came to the decision to rework Saban’s deal midway through last season. Looking over the past three or four years, Battle said, “We wanted to reward him and make him want to finish his career here.” But when Battle went to Saban the week before the Iron Bowl, he was thrown the stop sign: I’m busy. Talk to my agent.
“So I talked to Jimmy [Sexton], and he said, ‘He doesn’t want to talk about it. He’s focused,’” Battle recalled. “And he is. He’s focused on coaching football and recruiting, which is what he loves to do.
“So it went on ...”
Then Alabama lost in the final second to Auburn, simultaneously ruining a perfect season and any realistic shot at the BCS National Championship. Then there was the recruiting game to consider. Then there was the Sugar Bowl and Oklahoma. As Battle described it, “It was just a function of time.” Saban had said all along that he wanted to stay put, but the clock was ticking while other jobs were coming open -- namely Texas.
Finally, on Dec. 13, Alabama sent out a news release confirming that Saban and the university had agreed to a long-term deal. A few days later, Mack Brown stepped down as Texas’ head coach.
The six months since have been all about cutting through the bureaucratic red tape and sorting out legal jargon, Battle said.
“It just took a while to get done, and the rest has been a lot of people getting involved and blessing [the contract] and however it gets done,” he said. “I quit worrying about it a long time ago.”
He was worried at one point.
“There was nervousness,” he said. “They said what was said, and I believed what was said. But I read what everyone else was saying too. I can’t say I wasn’t anxious about it, but that got solved in a relatively short period of time. It was an intense period of time because of what all was going on with the Auburn game and then the recruiting and then the Oklahoma game, and all that was happening all at the same time, which added to the difficulty to think clearly on his part -- or focus.”
But what’s to keep those same circumstances from happening again? No contract, no matter how enormous, will keep Saban’s potential suitors at bay. After all, it was only 14 months ago that Alabama increased Saban’s pay to $5.62 million per year through 2020. He was the highest-paid coach in college football then, just as he is now.
What was wrong with that contract? Nothing, except it left room for doubt when other programs started calling Saban’s agent.
“There wasn’t anything wrong with his contract,” Battle said. “It wasn’t necessarily that we wanted to redo the contract; we just wanted to reward him.”
Asked specifically if the new deal was a result of the need to outrace potential bidders, Battle said the university “wanted to do what was fair and what was right and what we thought he deserved.”
Does Saban deserve an eight-year contract worth more than $50 million? Probably, when you look at the marketplace.
But there's the rub: A marketplace fluctuates based on demand. So as long as demand for Saban rises, so will his contract. Should he keep winning, these scenarios likely won’t stop happening. He will continue to insist that he’s happy at Alabama, but rumors will persist. Battle and the university will have to answer those concerns, and the merry-go-round will keep on spinning.
It’s complicated, but it’s a fact of life in big-time college athletics. Alabama employs one of the best coaches in the business. The trouble is it can never stop rewarding him as such.