Remember back in December when the entire college football universe was engulfed in Nick Saban-to-Texas rumors? Maybe you chose to believe them, maybe you didn’t. This site maintains that the rumors were absolutely real, primarily because we talked to too many coaches who believed the same thing. One person who absolutely believed Saban-to-Texas had legs? Saban’s own athletics director, Bill Battle.
In an enlightening piece for the Tuscaloosa News, Aaron Suttles spoke with Battle about the multiple-week saga that ended with Saban re-signing at Alabama with a college football-record $7.5 million annual salary. “I went to Nick before the Auburn game and said, ‘Look, we want to get this done,'” Battle said. “He had six years left on his contract, but we wanted to reward him for the great job that he’s done over the last three or four years, and really since he’s been here, but especially the last three or four years. So he said, ‘I don’t like to talk about all this stuff. Talk to Jimmy (Sexton, Saban’s agent).’ I talked to Jimmy and wanted to get it done before the Auburn game.”
For anyone close to Saban, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn he had no interest in spending one millisecond of focus on anything not wearing blue and orange in the week leading up to the Auburn game. His team was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country. His opponent was 10-1 and ranked fourth in the country. It’s a rivalry game that both sides treat as something greater than life or death. He had a two straight national championships to defend. This all seems obvious. Nevertheless, Battle trudged on.
“(Saban) was thinking about Auburn, which is what he should’ve been thinking about,” Battle continued. “Then he was thinking about the bowl game. Then he was thinking about recruiting. Jimmy said, ‘I just can’t get him.’ So he wasn’t worried about it.”
That Sexton couldn’t get a hold of Saban seems patently false, or incomplete at the very least. In his profile of Sexton from January, SI.com’s Pete Thamel writes that Saban refers to his agent as “one of my best friends.” Sexton vacations at Saban’s lake house, and Saban follows the golf career of Sexton’s son Parker. Sexton telling Battle “I just can’t get him to sign it” seems accurate. Sexton saying “I just can’t get ahold of him” does not.
Battle isn’t stupid. He was aware of the landscape outside of Tuscaloosa (and, specifically, in Austin), and he knew which side of the negotiating table owned all the leverage. It wasn’t the side he sat on.
“I wasn’t worried about it – well, I was worried about it, I’ll tell you that. He told me he wasn’t going anywhere and (Saban’s wife) Terry told me she wasn’t going anywhere. I believed that, but I kept reading what everybody else was reading. I won’t say that I wasn’t nervous about it.”
Had Saban left Alabama, the Crimson Tide could have won national titles in men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, golf and track and field, gotten both Auburn and Tennessee expelled from the SEC and cured cancer in the process, and Battle still would have been remembered as the AD that let Nick Saban get away. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but only a slight one.
Regardless, the contract has now been signed, though not yet approved by Alabama’s board of trustees. Saban is not only the highest-paid coach in college football with a deal paying him close to $7.5 million annually, he’s outpaced by only Sean Payton, Bill Belichick, Jeff Fisher and Andy Reid in all of football.
All’s well that ends well, even if it keeps you up at night.