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

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

October 21st, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

This Aug. 3, 2012 file photo shows Jimmy Haslam III during a news conference in Berea, Ohio.

Photo by Associated Press/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?