Wiedmer: Is $aban worth the money?

Wiedmer: Is $aban worth the money?

June 4th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Nick Saban

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Only Nick Saban could turn a two-game losing streak into a $1-million-a-year raise.

And one of those losses was a come-from-ahead collapse against archenemy Auburn that had over-coaching written all over it.

Former Alabama coaches such as Mike DuBose or Mike Shula -- maybe that's Saban's saving grace; he isn't named Mike -- would have been fired before they could have reached the locker room if their teams had given up 13 points to the Tigers in the final 34 seconds.

Instead, the Alabama brass gave Saban a contract extension through 2022 and a $1 million raise to a preposterous $6.5 million a year. Never mind that within the narrow confines of major college football, $aint Nick is probably worth it. At least as long as he finally beats a ranked Auburn team when they meet again this season.

Because for all of Saban's success, that's never happened. He's 0-6 against Tigers teams that finished seasons with at least nine wins.

When Bill Curry went 0-3 against Auburn as the Tide coach in the late 1980s, he fled for the calamity that was Kentucky before his fourth season in T-town rather than have one more brick thrown through his office window for disappointing Houndstooth Nation.

But $aban gets a $1 million raise and extension after collapsing at Auburn, then getting outcoached and his Tide outplayed by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Poor OU coach Bob Stoops. He's still under $4.8 million per year (at least as of press time Tuesday night).

And what of Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, whose magical, maniacal offense has now bettered Saban two of the past four seasons? Should the Tigers again trip the Tide this autumn in Tuscaloosa, does Malzahn's $3.85 million deal escalate by $1 million a year? And shouldn't it, at least as long he can also grab his first official national championship? Technically, he was only the offensive coordinator when AU won it all in 2010 for since-fired Gene Chizik.

Then again, Saban did rescue former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin from the unemployment line, then pay him $680,000 a year. Has anyone ever had a softer landing falling off a Trojan horse?

So maybe the raise was more $aban displaying his humanity to man. Or maybe it was about fear. And fear only. Because life has been pretty good under $aban throughout his seven seasons at the Capstone. Three national championships. Four SEC West titles. Five BCS bowls.

That's legendary stuff. You could bring Bear Bryant back from the dead and hand him scholarship limits and academic performance requirements, and he might not duplicate half that success. And from this corner, Bear remains the best college coach ever.

But Alabama athletic director Bill Battle played for Bryant before he coached against him at Tennessee. He knew the Bear as well as anyone. He also knows just how good Saban is, and he wants no part of being remembered as the AD who somehow let him slip away.

Kentucky coach Mitch Barnhart likely travels that same path with basketball coach John Calipari, who's reached three Final Fours and won one national title during his five years in Lexington. Does Barnhart privately believe Coach Cal's worth the $5.4 million he made this past season? Probably not. Yet he's smart enough to know that having once hired the disaster that was Billy Clyde Gillispie, he better pay Cal whatever he wants whenever he wants it.

And given that passion for winning at any cost, what Southern major college president at a school best known for an athletic program would ever want to stand up to that program's coach over principles and priorities?

To repeat an old line once attributed to the University of Oklahoma president during the school's football superiority of the 1950s: "We just hope to have a university to make the football team proud."

There is also a flip side to this that every Alabama fan should be justifiably proud of, however wrongheaded this all looks. Thanks mostly to football, the Tide athletic department ran $34 million in the black during the 2012-13 school year and returned $6.5 million to the academic side of UA. So it basically paid for $aban's whole salary. Similar numbers should arrive for this year.

Nor does Saban apparently mind subliminally assessing blame for last year where he believes it's justified. While all of his assistants received contract extensions through February of 2016, only wideouts coach Billy Napier (from Murray County, Ga.) received no increase in pay. Better dip into your pocket for more sticky gloves, Billy. Need more sticky gloves.

So here we go again down here in SEC country, where three of the nation's six highest paid coaches -- Saban (1), Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin (3) and LSU's Les Miles (6) -- make most of the rest of the coaching community green with envy.

Yet while we pour hundreds of millions into renovating already lavish football stadiums, pay the coaches whatever they want while often freezing faculty pay and hike tuition by 8 percent or more, we might also pause to wonder why a story on our website Tuesday afternoon declared that six of the 10 dumbest states in America based on percent of the population with a bachelor's degree, median household income and 2010 average SAT score were home to SEC schools, including Alabama at No. 7 and Tennessee in 10th.

The smartest state in America by those criteria was Massachusetts. Coincidence or not, the Minutemen's new coach, Mark Whipple, will earn a base salary of $250,000 this fall.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.