You knew this one was coming up at some point: Nick Saban linked to the potential opening of the head coaching position of the Dallas Cowboys, arguably the biggest NFL franchise and one of the select few with the requisite deep pockets needed to make a legitimate monetary offer exceeding what he makes at Alabama. And so indeed it has apparently come to pass. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wrote a piece earlier tonight dismissing the rumors as unfounded as well as giving a handful of reasons detailing why such a move is unlikely:
Now, there are persistent rumors that he could be headed back to the NFL, to coach the Cowboys. The rumors appear to be unfounded, for several reasons.
So if/when Saban says he’s not going to be the Dallas coach, he likely will be telling the truth. For a change.
For the record, I'd be shocked if any of this ever to fruition, and frankly I don't think I've ran across anyone who legitimately believes it will happen. Furthermore, despite some rumblings, no one has actually reported that there is interest on either side. Bob Costas, for instance, when mentioned tonight on NBC's Football Night in America, laughed out loud at the prospects of the move.
Personally, given the improved play of the Cowboys in recent weeks, I fully expect that Jerry Jones will promote Jason Garrett when all is said and done. Since Wade Phillips was fired, the Cowboys have a 4-3 record with the three losses coming by a combined nine points and with all three losses having the Cowboys leading at one point in the fourth quarter (with two of the losses in fact having them with the lead with under two minutes remaining), and he's done it all with either a 38-year old back-up or inexperienced third string depth chart fodder at the helm. Besides, they've been paying him like a head coach for quite some time now -- an annual salary of roughly three million dollars per year -- so I imagine the light finally dawns with Jones that if he's going to pay him like a head coach he may as well make him a head coach. The Cowboys have operated for years now with Garrett in an effective head coach-in-waiting role, so his elevation to the head coaching job would be more the fulfillment of a long-term plan than any real surprise.
Even if Jones passes on Garrett, though, I still have a hard time seeing either he or Saban having any mutual interest, largely for the reasons that Florio detailed. Specifically, given the control freak nature of both individuals, I really doubt that either side would ever entertain the notion that they could co-exist, and frankly I'd be surprised if either side were even willing to relinquish any real control from the outset such that they could legitimately begin a courtship of one another. And that's all assuming that Saban is indeed interested in a return to the NFL, and frankly he hasn't really given any indication of that to begin with. (As an additional point, if the current UA coaching staff legitimately believed that Saban was about to leave, Kirby Smart would be in Gainesville right now).
Having said all of that, though, Nick Saban is unquestionably the top coach in all of college football, he effectively runs NFL schemes on both sides of the ball, and he has an extensive NFL background as both a defensive coordinator and a head coach. The legitimacy of these specific reports be damned, the fact of the matter is that for any NFL owner seriously considering a college coach to fill a head coaching position, Nick Saban is undoubtedly at the top of the list of prospective candidates. Such is the price of having such an elite coach to begin with. Rumors like these simply come with the territory for a collegiate program in our position. Don't like it? Well, go see if Mike Shula is interested in a third tour of duty in Tuscaloosa.
We're just going to live with rumors like these, and until the Cowboys officially fill the position with someone else, these rumors will continue. As an additional point, it probably will not help moving forward that rival recruiters will undoubtedly be using this against Alabama on the recruiting trails, consistently adding fuel to the fire. Furthermore, given the way that he handled his exit with the Miami Dolphins, the natural response from most is going to be to dismiss any denials of interest that Saban makes either publicly or privately. Again, none of this will go away completely until the Cowboys officially move in another direction.
The obvious caveat is that anything can happen, but in the end serious people consider probabilities, not possibilities, and for now there is no real factual basis -- or even theoretical basis, for that matter -- that would indicate this move will indeed come to fruition. At some point in the future, of course, Nick Saban will no longer spend his Saturday afternoons at 920 Paul W. Bryant Drive, and that is a day that Alabama officials, players, and fans must prepare for accordingly. Sadly enough, this too shall pass. Fortunately, for now though, there is nothing to indicate that the end of the Nick Saban era is at hand.