Joe Medley commentary: Keep a watch on Saban situation

November 6, 2013 

ANNISTON, Ala. --

Oh, that wily Jimmy Sexton.

Great agent though he is, he sure has a history for creating anxiety in Alabama.

Maybe it's because he has a knack for representing coaches whose career histories lend themselves to anxiety among fan bases. Who can forget Tommy Tuberville's classic "pine box" quote and Nick Saban's forceful declaration will still the Miami Dolphins' coach in 2006.

"I guess I have to say it," he said. "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach."

It didn't take a pine box to carry Tuberville from Ole Miss to Auburn, and Saban? Well, Alabama fans are praying he never leaves.

That brings us to this week's panic attack over the latest story linking Saban to another job. Let's see if we have this straight.

Sexton, Saban's agent, had a phone conversation with a former Texas regent in January. Nine months later, said former regent relayed his best recollections of that conversation to a current regent in an email.

The Associated Press obtained the email through a freedom-of-information request, and we learned the former regent's takeaway from his chat with Sexton -- Texas is the one job for which Saban would consider leaving Alabama, and Saban is feeling "special pressure" stemming from his wild success at Alabama.

We can only speculate that a good agent was doing what a good agent does, throwing pebbles in various pools to see what ripples might turn up for his client. His pebble appears to have grown into one eager Texas supporter's Gibraltar.

It all seems increasingly moot, now that Mack Brown's Texas team has won five consecutive games and vanquished interstate rival Oklahoma along the way.

So, as we wait for latest Saban-to-somewhere story to pass like a storm front over Dixie Alley, maybe it's constructive to mull

just what conditions might cause the self-proclaimed, "too-damned-old" Saban to consider retiring or trying another challenge.

To any ledge walkers, keep in mind that this is only one Alabama-based scribe's speculative sense of the coach he's observed in press conferences and games for seven years. Count me among the don't-jump chorus below.

That said, Saban is a rebuilder, not a maintainer. He can maintain, but it's not his thing, which makes it hard to see him as a 10-year coach anywhere.

Money is not Saban's biggest deal maker. He likes it as much as anyone, but he most wants control and constituencies so starved for success that they eagerly buy what he sells.

What the Star Trek character Spock was to logic, Saban is to process. Just like it's not humanly possible to purge all emotion, it's not possible to fully purge distraction and human nature's tendency to grow complacent and even delusionally entitled to success.

A complacent, delusionally entitled culture dilutes focus on process, so such a culture is Nick Saban repellant.

In seven years at Alabama, he's pretty much enjoyed process lockstep from his roster, fans, administrators and boosters. His contract gives him all the control a coach could want.

In return, he has won three national titles in four years and looks to be on the cusp for a fourth, but process missteps are showing.

Saban talked of "entitlement issues" on the roster at the start of spring practice. Eleven player suspensions since January seem to confirm that.

There still seems to be lockstep from administrators and Alabama's financial backers, but what about fans? We just saw brouhaha over Saban calling out fans for leaving blowout games early.

And don't think Saban failed to notice that rival Auburn's fan base won A-Day this year. After Alabama packed or near-packed Bryant-Denny Stadium through Saban's first six years, Auburn had 83,401 fans to Alabama's 78,315.

The bet here is that a Saban sort sees that and wonders, "Wow, is my fan base still the hungriest fan base in my state?"

None of this means that Saban's next career move is imminent, however. As the latest storm front of speculation passes over us, think of it in weather terms.

Meteorology gives us watches, warnings and emergencies, and watches and warnings often become false alarms. It might be prudent to issue a Saban watch.

Some conditions are growing favorable.

-- Joe Medley writes columns for the the Anniston Star. You can write to him at jmedley@annistonstar.com.

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