published Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Mark Wiedmer: Haslam, hire Saban for Browns, away from SEC

This Aug. 3, 2012 file photo shows Jimmy Haslam III during a news conference in Berea, Ohio.
This Aug. 3, 2012 file photo shows Jimmy Haslam III during a news conference in Berea, Ohio.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — It's time for Jimmy Haslam to rescue the rest of the Southeastern Conference from Alabama and its maniacal genius of a football coach, Nick Saban.

I say this after the top-ranked Crimson Tide's 44-13 shellacking of Tennessee on Saturday night inside a Neyland Stadium where the Haslam family owns at least a couple of luxury boxes.

And just in case you missed it, Haslam also now owns the NFL's Cleveland Browns, which he agreed to purchase in August for $1 billion.

No NFL team needs to improve more than the Browns, which is where Haslam can endear himself to the entire SEC that doesn't cheer for Alabama simply by hiring Saban as his head coach, general manager, president or doorman, whatever permanently gets him the heck out of Tuscaloosa.

Understand, this is not my idea only. My boss, Jay Greeson, and his Interweb buddies at his daily "5-at-10" quite possibly gave birth to this notion late last week.

In the days since, the concept of Haslam -- whose father "Big Jim" once played for the Big Orange -- returning Saban to the Browns organization he once served as defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick in the early 1990s has gained steam.

Naturally, such a move would immediately help UT, since the Volunteers have lost six straight to Saban's Tide by an average score of 34-10. And the last three of those routs have come against Derek Dooley, who probably got the Vols job in the winter of 2010 largely because he's a former Saban assistant.

But Haslam wouldn't just be helping the Browns, he'd be doing the whole SEC a favor, if not all of college football, since an Alabama team playing as it did against UT may very well win its third national championship in four years.

Bama didn't just crush the Vols on the scoreboard. It gained 539 yards to 282 for a UT team that was averaging 200 more yards and 25 more points.

"I'm disappointed we didn't play better on offense," Dooley said. "I thought we'd score more points. But they do this to everybody. We just joined the ranks of the rest of the country."

Many believe Saban is happy where he is, that the Alabama weather's a lot warmer than Cleveland's, that the schedule's easier, that his unsuccessful stint with the Miami Dolphins before heading to Alabama has cured him of the need to prove himself on the NFL level.

But that shouldn't deter Haslam. He needs to pull a Godfather and make Saban an offer he can't refuse. When you've got more money than Greece -- OK, so everybody has more money than Greece these days -- that shouldn't be that hard.

Just pay Saban like $8 million a season for eight seasons. And if that seems like too much, just ask the rest of the SEC, if not the entire BCS membership, to chip in two or three million each.

(Heck, Auburn might pay twice that much if Saban would hire Gene Chizik to grade his videotape. Or fetch his coffee.)

But every SEC school should he happy to chip in a bit, if only because they'll make it back in the increased bowl revenue they'll receive for moving up the bowl ladder as Bama slips back to the masses.

So what to do if Saban balks? Throw in a home inside a minidome, if necessary. Build his mansion inside a bubble with a constant temperature of 72 degrees. In Cleveland it could be the no-snow globe.

And just to protect your investment, it could be like a church parsonage. When Saban moves on, you keep the Browns Bubble for the next coach.

This isn't to say there aren't other coaches out there Haslam could hire. Given Saban's previous NFL struggles, maybe even better ones.

But this really isn't about the Browns. It's about the Big Orange, which has actually won 11 of its last 17 games against Bama when not facing Saban, Bear Bryant or Gene Stallings, who all won national titles for the Tide.

Whisk Saint Nick to Cleveland and the Big Orange could again become a big threat in this series.

But "could" also is such an iffy word. The thought from this keyboard is that billionaires like Haslam don't like "could" near as much as "should."

So here's the second part of the deal, assuming Little Jim still has a few free millions being pumped his way through Pilot Oil. He needs to slide a few of those extra George Washingtons toward UT athletic director Dave Hart to part company with Dooley and go for Jon Gruden.

Yes, it would cost an extra $4 million or so a year up front, but just as Saban's original $4 million salary was more than worth it to Bama, Gruden would work similar miracles in Knoxville in sheer ticket sales and contributions before he ever coached a game.

And he and his wife already own a home outside Sevierville near her mom.

Besides, if Haslam could lure Saban away from Alabama at the same time he's luring Gruden to Knoxville, his brother Bill could be more than re-elected governor. He could become Gov for Life.

But it all starts with Saban to the Browns. Could any true Big Orange billionaire find a better use for his money?

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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BamaFan_TNGrad said...

Thanks Mark! Love your humor!

October 21, 2012 at 10:04 a.m.
garnold37 said...

I know your tongue is firmly in your cheek, but realistically, as well, Saban isn't going anywhere. Alabama will keep giving him AND his staff raises. The revenue just keeps pouring in (second only to Texas last year). If Alabama wins the title this year, Saban will get a raise to close to $6/year. The bigger issue is Terry. If she didn't like Miami, she sure as hell won't go to Cleveland. The rest of the SEC (and nation, for that matter) can only hope he wants to retire before he's 70.

October 21, 2012 at 11:23 a.m.
Saban101 said...

Dream on, homer

October 21, 2012 at 12:36 p.m.
tider14 said...

I'm a Bama fan, and this article even had me laughing. Some good natured humor always helps. On a side note, it seemed like both teams were showing good sportsmanship last night... the league needs more of it.

October 21, 2012 at 3:13 p.m.
haustin1 said...

Mark, really liked your article, but I'll have to disagree with you 100 percent. The bottom line is that, at the time of Dooley's hiring the athletic department and the University was reeling because of Lane Kiffin's "slash and burn" exit strategy. Dooley was hired with little knowledge of who he was (as a coach and as a person--other than he was Vince Dooley's kid). Slowly the layers have been peeled off--perhaps a good lawyer and a professional and even a person but incapable of possessing the skills to run and win at a big time SEC program. As far as X and O's--Dooley has never even been a coordinator at a SEC program. I think the failure here lies with a long gone AD that made a desperation hire for a coach that was illprepared to run and lead a big time college football program. This program needs to be energized in a way that it has failed to be since the last few years of Fulmer, Hamilton failed in that regard--he failed to let Fulmer go out in a graceful way and he failed in the Dooley hire. Dave Hart now has a chance to make the correct and informed choice.

Saban will not leave for the NFL. He's done that game--worn that T-shirt and realizes where he is the grass is greener. If you are suggesting Jim Haslem needs to hire Nick Saban away and in some way that would take "the heat off" Tennessee you are way off base. If Saban were to ever step away---Alabama--as a brand flush with cash and relevance--could hand pick any coach they wanted. Unlike UT whose brand is so diminished and stock so low (and this was especially true at the time of Fulmer's last few years) are desperate to get relevant again. 1998 is ancient history--the University needs to make the next head coach a name that the 18 or 19 year old kid would know and at the same give all due respect to the rich football tradition of Tennessee. After Dooley's gone, it's all on Dave Hart to get this right again.

October 21, 2012 at 6:36 p.m.
mikeinmobile said...

Clever article. Work on your math. In the last 17 Bama/Tenn games the Tide won in 2002,2005 and the last six which adds up to the Vols winning 9 of the last 17 (not 11 of the last 17). Not bad but not Earth shattering.

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