Nick Saban and the College Football Circle of Life

One year at Toledo. Five years at Michigan State. Five years at Louisiana State. Two years in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins.

Nick Saban is accustomed to giving his employers the Don Draper treatment. The Nicktator’s expected one-night stand with Alabama is now going into a ninth season, though. It should come as no surprise that the coaching vagabond isn’t familiar with what happens to a college football program when you don’t love it and leave it.

Our guys weren’t motivated.

We didn’t respect our opponent.

Kids are entitled.

The players were thinking about the NFL.

We need to get our mojo back.

It’s easy to write those off as excuses, but they’re not. Saban and his cohorts are speaking the truth. (Although, as Plaxico Burress pointed out, it’s staggeringly hypocritical for a coach to bitch about his players allegedly looking out for their draft stock.) The talk around the Tide lately sounds a lot like other successful programs with a head coach who’s pushing a decade on the job.

The energy and focus that a coach and his staff bring to a job when they first get to campus gradually fades. Assistants get poached by other schools. Competitors get a read on a team’s tendencies. The media adulation drops off.

Motivating your players becomes a different task, too. After winning three national championships in Saban’s first six seasons in Tuscaloosa, the empire has been built. Now players have to worry about the possibility of not living up to expectations and screwing up the dynasty they’ve inherited. And they don’t get a nickel of those bonuses and contract extensions showered on their coaches when they do win.

Meanwhile, you start selling your program in recruiting as a pipeline to the NFL, which is a great way to reel in the top players in the country. It’s also a great way to build a culture that values getting to the big leagues over winning games. (Frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that.)

Saban’s latest bluster about the ill effects of the NFL draft process comes off as both immature and insulting to the players who have helped make him rich and powerful. It’s a bad look for Alabama’s head coach. But the overall tenor of such comments should come as no surprise.

Ask Bob Stoops or Pete Carroll or Steve Spurrier what it’s like.

We all figured Saban was such a freak that this would be different. Apparently, the tide of the college football coaching life cycle keeps rolling on.