ATLANTA — The day will come when a number of southern landmarks — highways, airports, stadiums, libraries, campus streets, etc. — bear the name of Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
These are the inevitable perks for arguably the greatest coach in college football history.
In the interim, though, since the 64-year-old Saban (eight consecutive seasons of double-digit victories) isn’t a candidate for imminent retirement, maybe the College Football Hall of Fame could bridge that gap of immortality.
Perhaps the Hall of Fame could honor Saban in the present, by naming a museum wing or special entryway after the wildly successful coach.
Something, anything to commemorate Saban’s seemingly annual visit to Atlanta, as a means of accepting the national championship trophy.
The above statement doesn’t come with tongue in cheek. The National Football Foundation has doled out the “MacArthur Bowl” trophy to the national-title-winning head coach 57 times … and Saban (four championships with Alabama, one with LSU) has been the ceremony’s keynote honoree five different times in 12 years.
And there’s no evidence of Saban being denied a sixth (or seventh) championship over the next two, three or five years.
“I reluctantly, reluctantly accepted a (graduate assistant) job” in 1973, recalled Saban on Friday, while discussing his low-key entry into college coaching (Kent State, his playing-days alma mater). “And 40-some years later, I’m still standing here.”
It’s fascinating to brainstorm what secondary occupation Saban might have pursued in the mid-1970s, outside of coaching:
Stock broker? Small-business owner? High school history teacher? College professor? Industrial psychologist?
We can rule out “professional golfer,” as evidenced by Saban’s recent performance at the Chick-Fil-A outing with SEC-affiliated celebrities, where his foursome lost out to a group headed by new UGA head coach Kirby Smart (Saban’s longtime defensive coordinator at Alabama).
“I hope that’s not going to be a sign of what the season will be like,” Saban joked, knowing Alabama and UGA won’t square off during the regular season.
We can rule out Saban quitting his job at Alabama and becoming the social media director at a Fortune 500 company. When pressed for insight about the Twitter-related debacle at Texas A&M — where prospective signees de-committed after some controversial Tweets from an Aggies assistant — the Alabama head coach wisely sidestepped the question … sort of.
“It’s unfortunate what happened,” Saban initially offered. “(But) I don’t Twitter, I don’t text for those very reasons. I don’t want anything (I write) to be misinterepreted.” The coach then added, “It’s a free country … I’d rather have our people be responsible and not have to be regulated.”
Saban holds a similar attitude toward his current stable of Crimson Tide quarterbacks (Cooper Bateman, Blake Barnett, David Cornwell, Jalen Hurts), none of whom have been announced as the Alabama starter (Sept. 3 opener).
“(A quarterback) has got to take the bull by the horns and win the team over,” said Saban, who has welcomed three different senior QBs in the last three years (AJ McCarron, Blake Sims, Jake Coker). “That’s not something that I can do.”
(The coach was effusive in his praise of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, marveling in how the Crimson Tide players have bought into Kiffin’s offensive philosophy.)
Saban’s immediate concerns with the prospective quarterbacks: Can they focus on a full summer of preparation, without worrying about who will start or looking over their shoulders after mistakes?
“I (only) want them to focus on what they need to do to be successful,” says Saban.
Kicking off against Southern California (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas) will undoubtedly expedite that focus, and history suggests it’ll be a worthwhile experience, as well. Of its last four netural-field openers (opponents: Wisconsin, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Michigan), Alabama has enjoyed an average victory margin of 20 points.
“We’ve tried to schedule a really good team (in the opener),” says Saban, noting its impact with summer conditioning and fall camp. “It’s always something that we’ve tried to participate in … (although) the consequences can be detrimental.”
Saban’s above statement may be rooted in probable fact, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to his situation. The Crimson Tide have won nine straight openers; and when citing the school’s last four national titles (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015), Alabama thrice ran the proverbial table after incurring a regular-season defeat in SEC action.
There’s one last secondary occupation to rule out with Saban: Politician.
When watching him interact with large crowds, Saban gracefully moves about the room like a governor or United State senator, shaking hands, snapping photos, responding to stealth staff notes and generally living the life of a VIP.
And make no mistake, in the dog-eat-dog world of college football … there’s no bigger VIP than Saban. There’s a “presidential” mystique to every public appearance.
Saban running for president in 2020? Even if that job has less scrutiny than serving as Alabama’s head coach, it’s still a long shot for the coach.
He’s content with simply winning games, mentoring kids, shaping leaders, collecting titles … and waiting for his name to be attached to a stretch of Interstate 65 someday.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.