The NFL will welcome 12 college head coaches to this weekend’s NFL draft in Chicago, including California’s Sonny Dykes and North Dakota State’s Chris Klieman — the respective coaches for quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, the presumptive 1-2 picks for the first round.
But make no mistake, Ole Miss’s Hugh Freeze and Alabama’s Nick Saban will be the requisite coaching stars of the weekend, presiding over their large handful of impact-ready prospects and accepting de facto victory laps for their tremendous work over the last four years.
(The same holds true for Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, as the Buckeyes have, give or take, 237 players eligible for the 2016 draft.)
For Freeze, Ole Miss could have three blue-chip talents — offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche — within the first 25 selections.
However, that’s nothing compared to Alabama’s potential output: The vaunted Crimson Tide could boast five first-rounders by the end of the evening (in no particular order): Defensive tackles A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, center Ryan Kelly, linebacker Reggie Ragland and Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry.
And that list might have swelled to seven Round 1 options, if linebacker Tim Williams (potential top-three pick in next year’s draft) and tight end O.J. Howard (200-plus receiving yards, two TDs in the national championship game) hadn’t returned to Tuscaloosa for their senior campaigns.
Simply put, Freeze and Saban will get a ton of TV ‘face time’ over the next three days … and that should rankle/sicken/dishearten the SEC’s other 12 head coaches.
From UGA’s Kirby Smart (Saban’s primary coaching mentor through the years) and Tennessee’s Butch Jones to Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, these coaches cannot escape the many weekend allusions to Saban or Freeze by simply hitting the ‘mute’ button on their remote … or skimming through the actual draft on the DVR, in an effort to watch the commercials.
Heck, you might even see a new Regions Bank TV spot, starring Saban, on the regular rotation of draft-weekend commercials (ESPN or NFL Network). Or, maybe a well-conceived camera shot of the legendary head coach (five national titles since 2003) diving into a deep-dish pizza between picks. (Saban’s supreme acting chops were honed long before the Alabama experience.)
Anything to let the viewer know Coach Saban has fingerprints all over this draft.
Which brings us to this: Is it really necessary for head coaches to garner VIP treatment for the draft? Shouldn’t they be on campus watching spring-game film or doing the legwork for next February’s National Signing Day?
Of course, the draft can survive without the superfluous fluff of coaches (and agents) hanging out in the Green Room. But these high-powered individuals also know how to play the game:
Through the simple acts of hugging the players after they’re drafted, mugging for the cameras and bugging TV viewers with their scripted omnipresence … forward-thinking coaches like Saban and Freeze are sending powerful visual messages to their next wave of blue-chip recruits and in-house athletes with NFL dreams.
More powerful than the 10 Snapchat messages, 100 phone calls or 1,000 emails from the SEC coaches who aren’t attending the draft festivities in The Windy City.
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.