There is zero debate that Rich Rodriguez passing on the Alabama job is the biggest “What If?” in recent college football history.
It’s impossible to know what exactly a Rodriguez-led Alabama program would have done, but we can make a few educated guesses. Things probably wouldn’t have gone as sideways for him as they did at Michigan — 15-22 in three seasons with a series of NCAA violations, the first in program history. And the road not taken certainly would not have been as prosperous as the gold-plated path Alabama eventually took: five national titles and counting under Nick Saban.
ESPN’s Chris Low dove deep into that black hole of college football history for a piece today, with great perspective from Rich Rod himself. But my favorite detail in this road-not-taken story was a detour to examine a road not even pursued — the possibility of Alabama head coach Steve Spurrier.
To hear Spurrier tell it, he didn’t pass on the job, and then-Alabama AD Mal Moore never offered it. (Moore died in 2013.) And the reason Moore never offered Spurrier the job was this, according to Spurrier:
“I’d made a commitment to South Carolina. They’d been good to me, hiring me when I was 60,” Spurrier said. “I just told Mal, ‘With the history of the program here, we have nowhere to go but up. So I’m going to stay here, ride this thing out and see if we can do some things that haven’t been done at South Carolina.’
“Had I gone to Alabama and won a national championship, it’s just another one. … It ain’t the first.”
Passing on the Alabama job will haunt Rodriguez for the rest of his professional life. Passing on the Alabama job for Spurrier was… probably the right call.
He had just finished his second season at South Carolina, going 15-10. He would remain in Columbia through the 2015 campaign, becoming the Gamecocks’ all-time winningest head coach and peaking with a 2010-13 run that saw Carolina win its only SEC East championship, post four straight AP Top 25 finishes, three straight AP Top 10 finishes (including a No. 4 finish in 2013), win four straight games over a Dabo Swinney-led Clemson and post a combined 42-11 record. Spurrier even scored a win over Saban, snapping the Tide’s 29-game regular season winning streak with a 35-21 ‘Cocks triumph in 2010.
It’s unquestionably the best 4-year run in South Carolina’s football history, and means more in Columbia than one title would in Tuscaloosa.