King Kaufman's Sports Daily

A badge of honor for the media: Being called a liar by a hypocrite like Nick Saban. Plus: What was that about no money for college players?

By Salon Staff
Published January 4, 2007 5:00PM (EST)

It's amusing to read this South Florida Sun-Sentinel recap of Nick Saban's increasingly irritated denials that he had any interest in the Alabama coaching job.

They start around Thanksgiving and continue right through New Year's Day, when the Miami Dolphins coach said, "I'm committed to doing my job well here" as the i's were being dotted on his eight-year, $32 million deal to coach the Crimson Tide.

Saban has every right to take the best offer, and if Pete Prisco of is correct, nobody in the Dolphins organization is terribly sad to see the dour, iron-fisted control-freak regime of Saban end in Miami.

Saban also has the right to lie to reporters. As Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde points out, coaches do that all the time, and "Saban wasn't even the biggest name in South Florida sports to lie Wednesday in South Florida." Hyde cites Pat Riley saying he's leaving the Miami Heat because he has bone chips in his knee as a bigger whopper.

But there are little white lies -- "It's not about the money," "I'm quitting to spend more time with my family," that sort of thing -- and then there's straight-up insulting the fan base, because that's who you're talking to when you're talking to reporters, who are mere proxies for the fans, conduits of information.

Saban spent weeks berating reporters, huffing at them for daring to suggest he was interested in the Alabama job, scolding that he wasn't going to respond to "rumors and innuendo."

"It really challenges your professionalism and integrity to even talk about it," he said to reporters a month ago.

Well, if anybody knows anything about challenging professionalism and integrity, it's Nick "I'm not leaving LSU/I'm not leaving the Dolphins" Saban. Or had you forgotten he pulled this same routine two years ago?

ESPN's Hank Goldberg, citing two college-coach sources, reported that Saban's agent had been sending out feelers to colleges as early as November, trying to gauge interest in a school hiring Saban. November. That's about the time Saban started upbraiding reporters for asking about rumors he might be headed to the college ranks.

Saban's a good college coach and I think a pretty fair NFL coach, though it was really too early to tell. His teams went a combined 15-17, though the problems had more to do with personnel decisions than coaching, and both years the team improved after a bad start.

On the other hand, Saban was in charge of everything, and personnel decisions aside his tough-guy approach is better suited to college ball. That sort of thing wears thin on grown-up professionals pretty quickly.

Saban's also a hypocrite, of course, yammering on ceaselessly about honor and loyalty and sacrifice and then skedaddling for a bigger paycheck and an easier league after laying into reporters for suggesting he might be mulling an offer, which he was in fact doing. But hypocrisy's forgivable if you win enough games.

And yes, Alabama fans, an easier league.

I know, I know. Alabama's unlike anywhere else for college football. I know that because you keep saying that. But I don't think Louisiana-Monroe showed up on the Miami Dolphins schedule this year, or even Mississippi State. The Dolphins also can't have any player they can convince to come to Miami. They have to take their turn in a draft and they have to live with a salary cap. No such worries for the Tide.

We in the media take a deserved beating whenever we get a story wrong, but while everybody outside greater Tuscaloosa is talking about what a louse Saban is, the missed aspect of this story has been that the media had it right back in November. For all Saban's attacking their professionalism and integrity, turns out the squad covering the Dolphins did a good job. Their sources were good. The leads panned out.

I remember years ago reading an interview with Joan Jett in which she said it was hard to do what she felt was the right thing by turning down offers to use her songs in TV commercials because there's no reward. You refuse all this money, she said, and nobody ever comes up to you and says, "Hey, thanks for saving rock 'n' roll."

Putting aside whether Joan Jett saved rock 'n' roll, or whether it needed or is worth saving, I think the same thing happens with the typists and chatterers. Saban calls them a bunch of unprofessional rumormongers for weeks, and they dutifully report it. And when it turns out he was lying and they had it right, who says, "Hey, thanks for getting it right"?

Hey, folks on the Dolphins beat. Thanks for getting it right.

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Eight years, $32 million [PERMALINK]

The reported size of Saban's deal doesn't include bowl bonuses that could take it up to $35 million, nor of course the sundry perks and privileges that go with the job.

Whenever I argue that Division 1-A basketball and football players, who generate billions of dollars in revenue, ought to get paid, I always hear back that there isn't enough money, that paying all those guys would bankrupt every program.

I'll keep Saban's deal in mind next time I hear that.

Just a couple of years ago, the top of the college football salary scale was around $2.2 million, which is what Bob Stoops of Oklahoma was getting.

If we ignore Saban's bonuses and perks and just take the difference between his reported base salary and the 2004 benchmark for insanely inflated coaching compensation, we get about $1.8 million a year. Divide that among Alabama's 85 scholarship players and you get an average of $21,176. That's an average. The star quarterback and the last backup special teams guy getting paid the same.

That's probably more than Player 85 is worth and not nearly the market value of the star quarterback or pass rusher, but it's a lot more fair than a system that makes it illegal for these guys to have a coach buy them lunch.

And the coach still makes $42,308 a week.

Turns out the money was there all along, at least at Alabama. It just needed to be found, or raised, or shuffled around. When coaches like Saban cash their huge paychecks, they're taking some money that should go to the players. Money that, right up until the moment each big coaching contract is announced, we're told doesn't exist.

Previous column: What Boise State didn't do

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