Sunday Conversation: Is Saban the Man for the Job?

Am I what now? - (Vasha Hunt)

As a football coach in the modern era, Saban stands alone. Does he have the makeup to be just as successful in an administrative capacity?

When Mal Moore stepped down this week, he left behind not only a legacy, but also a short-lived void. In the wake of the news, speculation abounded as to who the successor would be. Die hard Bama fans mostly clamored for Ozzie Newsome to return home and grab the helm. In the midst of the din, however, you could hear the whispers beginning, "What about Saban?"

It seemed like a perfectly natural question. After all, Saban's legacy is inextricably interwoven with that of Bear Bryant's, and Bryant famously served as his own Athletic Director while coaching the Tide. If the Bear could do it, why not Saban? Alas, the rumors starved in the cradle as Saban made it clear that he had no such intentions less than 5 hours after Mal Moore's decision to step down had been announced.

The underlying sentiment of the suggestion lived on, however. The new AD, Bill Battle, is no spring chicken - beginning his tenure as AD at the ripe age of 72. Surely Mr. Battle is merely a placeholder meant to keep things in order until Saban is ready to assume the mantle, the reasoning went. Any debate on the matter was largely focused on the formalities. How long until Saban retires? Would he want the position? Nowhere was the question ever posed - would he be the right man for the job?

First, let's consider Saban's temperament. Saban is said to be a fairly personable fellow in private company, but he's regarded as a prickly individual for a reason, and his exploits on the field and with the media are well documented. There's little fallout when Saban pops his top on a player or a reporter, but the stakes are significantly higher when big-money donors are involved. In his current role, Saban could probably afford to be a bit aloof with donors on a day-to-day basis and have it be chalked up to him being busy maintaining an empire. In the AD role, though, glad-handing would be expected regularly. Honestly, given Saban's inability to suffer fools, I'm not sure how he'd handle the constant interactions and a life full of politicking doesn't seem to match his disposition.

Second, let's consider the implications of having a post-coaching-career Saban on campus everyday in an administrative capacity. There's no way to sugar coat this - when the day comes that Saban finally decides to hang up the headset, Alabama is almost certainly staring down a backlash that will be downright Bryant-esque. Speaking honestly, the next Alabama coach has zero chance of living up to the legend that Saban will leave. Considering that this uphill climb will already exist for the new coach, does anyone think that having the living legend on campus will do anything but exacerbate the constant comparisons? Saban's presence would likely serve as a lightning rod, and some portion of the fanbase will just be waiting for the first sign of trouble to start calling for Saban's return.

Finally, the sacrilege. Saban has discovered the secret to running a football program. There simply is no denying the effectiveness of The Process... in running a football program. I'm not sure how well this methodology would translate when applied to an entire athletic department. The authority is highly centralized in Saban's system. He delegates plenty to his underlings, but everyone is expected to march to the beat of Saban's drum and perform every task to his exact specifications. This might prove untenable in a broader application, since Saban would be dealing with a wider array of sensibilities, personality types and athletic expectations. Moreover, head coaches expect to operate with a degree of autonomy that Saban may have difficulty providing. In short, the overbearing, control-freak attributes of Saban which have resulted in Bama fielding the finest football program in a generation seem ill-suited for managing the entirety of an athletic department. And since the odds of Saban forsaking the Process are about as good as the odds that Bama will field a team wearing orange and blue, I'm not sure that the arrangement would work.

Cast your vote in the poll, and chime in below to let me know what you think.

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