HOOVER, Ala. — Imagine being Kirby Smart.

Ultimate recruiting mic drop: Nick Saban is all about evolving, and he wants everyone to know it

You walk off the stage at SEC Media Days having just crushed that setting like you never have. You spoke openly and honestly about issues like COVID vaccination threshold, the transfer portal and how you’ve embraced the Name, Image and Likeness rules. Shoot, you even name-dropped Quavo sharing NIL advice with you about telling players not to be “thirsty.”

You’re the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC East with a team widely considered worthy of starting off in the top 5. You know that Florida is expected to take a step back. More importantly, you know that this might be your best chance to finally take down Alabama.

If you’re Smart, yes, you should feel good walking off that stage.

And then Nick Saban steals your thunder. Again.

The crazy thing is, Saban became the story of the day in college football before he ever stepped foot in Hoover.

Chris Hummer reported that on Tuesday while speaking at the Texas High School Coaches Association convention, Saban dropped a stunning number about how much Alabama quarterback Bryce Young benefitted already off NIL before making his first career start.

“Our QB has already approached ungodly numbers, and he hasn’t even played yet. If I told you what it is … it’s almost 7-figures,” Saban said Tuesday.

Just like that, Saban delivered a recruiting mic drop that sent shockwaves through the college football world. There are flexes, and then there’s that.

That’s not “hey, my quarterback is having a great season and now he’s rolling in cash.” That’s “hey, my program is so lucrative that my quarterback is making life-changing money just because of the position he’s in as an Alabama quarterback.”

How do you even respond to that?

Even Lane Kiffin, who is as witty as they come when it comes to talking about Saban, was taken aback by learning that information at SEC Media Days on Tuesday.

“That number just blew me away. You didn’t prepare me for that,” Kiffin said. “That’s amazing. He made a million dollars and hasn’t started a game yet? Wow, I don’t even know what to respond to that, but great for him.”

Kiffin was so blown away that several minutes later when he was asked about Jerrion Ealy’s shoulder surgery, he admitted he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“I’m still blown away on this Bryce Young,” Kiffin said. “The guy’s made a million dollars already? That’s good, man. He don’t need to play next year against us, then.”

It’s ironic because if there’s anyone who knows about Saban’s unmatched ability to evolve, it’s Kiffin. The well-documented arrival of Kiffin in Tuscaloosa sparked Alabama’s revamped offensive philosophy in 2014, which laid the groundwork for 3 national titles in the Playoff era.

Saban actually harked back to that when he eventually got to speak in Hoover on Wednesday. He credited Kiffin for being at the root of the Tide’s evolved offense, which implemented pro-style principles with the RPOs and spread concepts with the ability to block downfield that fueled Ole Miss in its upset win against Alabama in 2014 (and again in 2015).

“So when (Kiffin) came in, I said, ‘Look, we want to change this. You need to research this. You’re smart. We can do this,'” Saban said. “He actually did implement that and was the first one to sort of change how we did things on offense. It enhanced our opportunity to score more points.”

In a way, Saban’s offensive transformation culminated in 2020 when Mac Jones led Alabama to its best offensive season in school history. Oh, and another national championship … and another No. 1 overall recruiting class. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s 9 of the past 11 years that Bama won the recruiting title. Never mind the fact that it happened in the year that Saban will turn 70 years old.

There was a leaked clip of Saban’s pitch to a recruit that went viral earlier in the year about why the talent pool never runs dry. That is, why hasn’t anyone like Smart or Jimbo Fisher, been able to shift the balance of power on the recruiting trail? It’s pretty simple. Saban told this unnamed recruit that if a coach from another program tells him he can’t play at Alabama right away, that’s “insulting.”

Watch this video and you’ll wonder how Saban ever loses a recruiting battle:

Did Saban’s camp want that released? Probably not. But at the same time, if you’re Saban, that’s another recruiting flex.

Now did Saban make a concerted effort to dominate the news cycle this week with his “ungodly” comment about Young’s earnings? I wouldn’t doubt it. It was telling, but subtle.

It’s not like Saban stepped up to the podium in Hoover and just bragged about Young or anybody else’s NIL earnings so far. To borrow a word that Quavo used in his text message to Smart, Saban didn’t need to come off “thirsty.” Tuesday’s comment was the top headline on ESPN and countless publications. The damage was done.

On Wednesday, Saban said that there’s no precedent with the NIL era, he really didn’t know about the effects that’ll play out in the next year.

Who knows? Maybe a year from now, a million dollars won’t feel like that stunning of a number.

Perhaps it’ll be normalized, and the 8-figure projection for Arch Manning’s future NIL earnings won’t feel quite as stunning. Manning’s visit to Alabama came just a few weeks removed from Saban signing an extension through 2028. The Athletic’s Jeff Duncan, who wrote about Manning’s highly-regarded recruitment before he began his visits, said on The Saturday Down South Podcast he was told that the timing of Saban’s extension wasn’t a coincidence.

Whether Manning or other 5-star recruits — like 5-star quarterback commit Ty Simpson — were on Saban’s mind with his extension or his flex about Young’s earnings, we don’t know. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. The facts are what they are.

You don’t have this type of success in this era of college football without being ahead of the curve.

“I said at some interview on the way in here, the discussion was about Alabama and Coach Saban and the parity in college football, and I said he’s done it different than anyone’s ever done it and better than anyone’s ever done it,” Kiffin said. “No disrespect to the coaches back before. There’s not supposed to be parity with 85 scholarships and 25 a year.”

You’re not supposed to flex as much or as long as Saban has. On Tuesday, when he wasn’t even part of the show, he found a new way to flex about his evolving ways.

Of course he did.