Earlier this week we detailed how Monte Burke’s new unauthorized biography of Nick Saban, entitled Saban: The Making of a Coach, left the Miami Dolphins for Alabama, and changed college football history in the process.
Well, what if he never even got to Miami? What if he never even took the LSU job?
Following the 1996 season, the New York Giants fired Dan Reeves and set their sights on a young, upwardly mobile head coach at Michigan State. “We were very impressed with him,” John Mara said. “We offered him the job.” Then Giants GM John Young described Saban as “the best candidate he ever interviewed.”
It says a lot for Saban’s organization and management skills, because he hadn’t done much on the field at that time to warrant an NFL job. Saban, 42 at the time, was 12-11-1 in two seasons at Michigan State to that point.
Though the Giants were prepared to move on Saban, talks broke down went he demanded control of the coaching staff and personnel, leading the club to hire Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, who went 58-53-1 with three playoff appearances and one NFC championship in seven seasons in Gotham.
That wasn’t Saban’s only NFL flirtation, however. A year later and with a No. 1 draft pick in hand, Bill Polian and the Indianapolis Colts made a run at Saban. “I was prepared to offer him the job,” Polian told Burke. But talks fizzled after, you guessed it, Saban requested control over his coaching staff and the roster.
Polian settled on Jim Mora, who spent the 1997 season as an analyst for NBC after winning a team-record 93 games in 11 seasons with the New Orleans Saints. Later that spring they drafted Peyton Manning and the rest, they say, is history. Mora went 32-32 in four seasons and was fired in favor of Tony Dungy after missing the playoffs in 2001.
Saban, of course, stayed at Michigan State through the 1999 season, then leaving for LSU and later the Dolphins and Alabama. But what if Saban had taken the Giants job? Could his ultra-tense nature – especially at that time – survived the New York media? (Probably not.) While the talents they have for their respectful jobs is undeniable, would Saban and Manning killed each other in a power struggle – or would they have combined their forces to create the greatest modern dynasty the NFL has ever known?
The implications for college football are even more interesting. Where is LSU right now if Saban was never available to jumpstart the program from sleeping giant to superpower? Who does Michigan State hire if Saban leaves two or three years before he ultimately did? And what if Saban had taken one of those jobs, let his tenure with the Colts or Giants run its course, and then return to the college game after, say, the 2004 season? Does he land at Notre Dame or Florida? And where are those programs right now if he does? Where is Alabama?
Oh, and if you’re looking for more butterfly wings to flap, there’s also this: Burke confirms conversations between Saban’s longtime agent Jimmy Sexton and boosters at Texas. Corroborating a report from the Associated Press, Sexton spoke with UT regents Steve Hicks and Wallace Hall, saying his client “a turnaround artist than a long-term CEO,” and admitting the “special pressure” of coaching at Alabama was getting to Saban.
But, contrary to a report from Paul Finebaum and unlike his dalliances with the Giants and Colts, official discussions never took place and a contract was never offered. New Texas athletics director Steve Patterson, shockingly, offended Sexton when he warned the agent against using a potential Texas opening to get Saban a raise, and Patterson told Burke he never spoke with Saban.
Saban eventually signed a multi-year extension at Alabama, infamously announced during Texas’s annual football banquet, and Patterson hired Louisville head coach Charlie Strong.