HOOVER, Ala. — Nick Saban made one thing clear this week: He will not be making an endorsement.
Not for the upcoming presidential election—he’s smart enough to know that doing so could alienate fans and recruits—but rather for an idea he supports: college football commissioner.
Saban thinks it would be in the best interest of the sport to have someone overseeing it and doing things like negotiating draft rules with the National Football League and consolidating safety issues. A commissioner could also streamline the process of changes that are in the works while helping prevent some of their unintended consequences.
Keep that latter part in the back of your mind, because college football’s dealing with one right now…but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Saban has little or no interest in the job. He’s got a pretty good one right now that’ll probably be his last. Moreover, serving as commissioner wouldn’t include the things he likes the most about being a coach, including the whole football part of it and dealing with young players.
Yes, even this week.
Of course, two of his players were arrested early Tuesday morning, with starting left tackle Cam Robinson’s status uncertain after being charged with possession of a controlled substance, illegal possession of a firearm and possession of a stolen gun, which is a felony.
Saban is looking into the matter and told reporters at the PGA Tradition Pro-Am on Wednesday morning that it’s way too early to announce anything.
“One thing I always tell players is that there are three bad things: nothing good happens after midnight, nothing good happens when you’re around guns, unless you’re going hunting, and you don’t want to mess around with women that you don’t know, because a lot of times bad things happen,” Saban said later that day on the Paul Finebaum Show. “In this case, a couple of those things were violated, and I think it’s going to be a learning experience for everybody on our team.”
People who aren’t regularly around Saban don’t quite understand how seriously he takes the teaching part of his job, and he talks extensively about it during his annual coaching clinic.
Meanwhile, the event Saban attended this week that unfortunately got overlooked by most was a fundraiser for former Alabama running back Kerry Goode (1983-87), who was diagnosed with ALS last year.
“We’ve had two guys now, Kevin Turner and now Kerry Goode, that have now suffered from this disease,” Saban said, referring to the former NFL fullback who died in March. “Lou Gehrig’s disease. His great speech in Yankees Stadium was 77 years ago, and it doesn’t look like we have a whole lot better way of dealing with this disease now than what we had then. This is one of the things that we want to be an advocate of.”
Saban the Alabama ambassador was happy to lend his name to that cause, only that’s just another one of the hats that he wears, especially during this time of the year. Serving as college football’s ambassador is something he’s inadvertently been doing for years, as well, arguably since he won his second national championship and first with the Crimson Tide in 2009.
In sports it’s a role that often goes to those who are the best at something, whether they’re interested in the responsibility or not. Lebron James is a good example in the NBA, although Stephen Curry is beginning to figure that out as well.
The same holds true with coaches. They may be polarizing, but it’s like the old E.F. Hutton ads. When someone like Mike Krzyzewski says something about college basketball, everyone listens.
Saban is clearly on that plateau.
In a couple of weeks the Southeastern Conference will be gathering for its annual spring meetings in Destin, Florida, where it’ll be hashing out ideas and voting on proposals. In preparation, there have already been some preliminary discussions and phones calls, plus the coaches have talked when they run into each another at various charity golf events and speaking engagements.
As for what might be the hot topic, no one’s really sure yet. Georgia’s Kirby Smart plans on doing a lot of listening, as it’ll be his first time at the meetings, but new rules which now allow unlimited texting is a subject on which he might offer an opinion.
“If you’re not doing it, someone else is,” Saban’s former defensive coordinator said.
Something else that’s sure to come up is the SEC having officials at the league headquarters helping with live instant-replay reviews, similar to what the NFL does from its home office.
“I kind of like the direction of the central command and all that,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “You’re always trying to improve, as far as that goes.”
But those are changes that have already occurred. The only coach at the Regions Pro-Am who was talking about what’s next was Saban, which brings us back to that issue with unintended consequences: satellite camps.
Whether you’re for them or against them, Saban makes a good point that the NCAA is sending a bad message by severely limiting the time coaches can spend with their own players during the spring and summer while not putting any kind of restriction on satellite camps during the same time period.
“[It’s] kind of like what we went through 25 years ago when you used to go to college all-star games all summer,” Saban said. “My wife was beating me over the head, and I could never see the players that I coached because they were going to all-star games everywhere in the country.
“Well, you can’t do that anymore, but now we’re gonna go do satellite camps. Every high school that’s got a prospect is gonna have a satellite camp, and every coach in the country is gonna be expected to be there, and all these thing happening are gonna create a circumstance where this was time that we spent with our players.”
Have no doubt that satellite camps will be extensively discussed in Destin, where it’ll be interesting to see if Saban has even more influence after Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all hired his former assistants as head coaches.
The SEC will almost certainly draw a line somewhere and argue for a national norm, yet it could take significant time for common ground to be reached, something that might have been avoided with a commissioner.
That’s the difference, and if college football eventually creates such a position, it would be best filled by a former SEC commissioner like Mike Slive instead of Saban or another coach.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.
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