Alabama football: With Gus gone and Mullen clown-shoeing, how isn't Saban a billionaire?
Sundays during this time of year aren’t just for the NFL, as the college football world annually fires up the Coaching Carousel — with Power 5 programs casting guys loose and then cherry-picking either lower-tier programs or going with retreads with the hopes that an 8-4 product can become a 9-3 product.
Still, this particular Sunday jarred us here at SDS World Headquarters when word filtered in that Auburn had made a change at the top. Out was Gus Malzahn after 8 seasons and a 68-35 record on the Plains. Turns out, the powers that be at The School Down The Road wasn’t such huge fans of Auburn’s “solid” 6-4 season that saw the Tigers lose to 3 top-5 programs and South Carolina, but regress from a 9-4 season in 2019.
Despite all its Sugar Huddle-licious eye candy, The Gus Bus ultimately blew a tire and ran into the ditch because Auburn fancies itself as an equal to Big Brother, not an 8-4 program that it has been for the better part of a half-century.
We’ve seen this before, of course. Florida is another example of trying to chase success it can’t get. That’s why Spurrier begat Zook, and why Meyer begat Muschamp, McElwain and now Mullen. Oh sure, the Gators have won the SEC East this season and are on the way to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, but they qualified for it before shoe-throwing themselves out of a potential College Football Playoff berth against LSU.
But when the abacus came out to calculate just how much Auburn will be paying Malzahn to go away — reportedly just north of $21 million — it occurred to us that there is a certain coach who is being drastically underpaid …
Nicholas Lou Saban.
If Patrick Mahomes is worth $450 million to the Chiefs over 10 years, and Mike Trout can pull $430 million over 12 years from the Angels, and even Manny Machado can rob the Padres for $300 million over 10 years, then Nick Saban at $9.3 million per revolution around the sun is an absolute bargain.
We can hear your gears grinding now, stalwarts of academia/fans of budgetary equality. “How can you justify paying Nick Saban MORE than $9 million a year?!? Aren’t there professors on campus in Tuscaloosa worth just as much? And can we please think of the rowing team’s needs, too?!?”
Having practiced my wares in Tuscaloosa when Saban was brought in to resurrect Alabama’s program for a then-unheard-of $3.5 million in 2007, it would have been taboo to suggest that Saban was worth even more than that. But the resultant 14 seasons have more than proven it out.
- Alabama went from a laughingstock in the SEC to not only the conference’s winningest program, but also the class of the entire country. CBS practically sets up permanent production facilities in Tuscaloosa every fall, and Verne Lundquist/Brad Nessler, Gary Danielson and Tracy Wolfson might as well get their mail in the 35401 ZIP code.
- Enrollment at Alabama leapt up in the past 14 years, with the school cashing in on its prominence to not only be more selective with potential students but also invest in them with significant infrastructure.
- Speaking of infrastructure, Alabama was able to thrice extend its hand to alumni and donors to renovate Bryant-Denny Stadium — making what was once an edifice sucking hind teat in the SEC into a jewel.
- Said capital campaigns also benefit all of Alabama athletics, as Coleman Coliseum has been hit with more than just a fresh coat of paint, the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility got another huge upgrade, the Crimson Tide built another sparkling new strength complex, etc.
You think any of that would have happened if Rita Rodriguez hadn’t pitched a fit about not wanting to leave Morgantown?
Just as a rising tide raises all boats, a rising Tide under Saban has raised all the boats tied to the University of Alabama. Gone are the days of Mike Price causing a national embarrassment and Mike Shula searching for a signature win. Now, it is all about “The Process” to get to “Where Legends Are Made.”
We aren’t arguing that Saban is poor by any stretch. Having pulled down north of $9 million each of the past 4 years, plenty of Saban heirs will be most comfortable in the future. But the return on investment of what that initial $3.5 million has brought? It is plausible to suggest that a 1 with 9 zeros after it is the proper number.
That brings us back to Malzahn and Mullen, and Auburn and Florida. It is absurdly easy to sit here and say “well, shoot, y’all, just go out and hire you a Saban” — as if they grow on trees. Despite all of Jimmy Sexton’s agenting, it doesn’t exactly work that way.
Nevertheless, Auburn sent Malzahn packing because it has dreams of doing what it did with Gene Chizik in 2010. Florida will eventually tire of Mullen’s clown-shoe antics because it has dreams of doing what it did with Steve Spurrier in 1996 and Urban Meyer did in 2006 and 2008.
Meanwhile, The Process just keeps churning in West Alabama. Saban was earning his money Sunday — likely recruiting for the No. 1 class in 2024 or watching game tape on Miami for next season’s opener — while Auburn was changing the locks on Malzahn’s door and Mullen was trying to explain how he benched Kyle Pitts and condones 15-yard penalties for throwing shoes.
That’s the difference. And that’s worth a billion dollars.