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Back to school

Sports | Saban's contract may lure more big-name coaches to colleges

Issue: "Hope or hype?," Jan. 20, 2007

To say Nick Saban's departure from the Miami Dolphins caused resentment would be an understatement. Hall of Fame coach and franchise legend Don Shula, father of fired University of Alabama coach Mike Shula, felt compelled to weigh in after Saban left the head coaching position in Miami for his son's former job with the Crimson Tide.

"There were four or five direct statements that were blatant lies," Shula told The Miami Herald, citing Saban's consistent statements that he had no interest in the Alabama job that he eventually took. "That tells you a bit about the guy. . . . The guy likes to hear himself talk and then doesn't follow up on what he says."

But coaches in search of the next best coaching job make stealth job changes quite often. Here's the real story: For most coaches, career ascendancy means working through assistant and head coaching positions in the college ranks with the hopes of someday making it to the professional ranks. But for some coaches-those like Nick Saban-upward mobility can lead to a downward direction.

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Moving from NFL coaching to college coaching is generally seen as a downward move. What would propel Saban to leave a $5-million-a-year job in the NFL for a college head coaching position with Alabama? Perhaps the same thing that keeps Pete Carroll coaching USC and makes former Redskins coach Steve Spurrier wish he had never left Florida.

The NFL's salary caps prevent the sort of disparity in talent found on the unlevel playing field of college football. And while coaches have generally leapt at the chance to make millions in the NFL, college coaching salaries have almost pulled even. Saban's estimated 8-year, $32-million deal pays him just a million less every year, but gives him much greater financial security in the quick-to-cut-bait world of football coaching. And while the increase in pay for college coaches has athletic directors nervous (one said he expected the Saban contract to create a ripple effect), it's suddenly made college positions the vogue again.

Around the Horn

FOOTBALL: Ohio State started with a bang and ended with a whimper as underdog Florida ran away from the Buckeyes to win college football's national championship 41-14 on Jan. 8. Although Ohio State returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, the Buckeyes defense never found a way to stop Florida. Was it game MVP Chris Leak who carved up Ohio State's defense? Or was it Ohio State's unprecedented 51-day layoff leading up to the championship game?

NFL: In an age when players hang on too long, New York Giants running back Tiki Barber will hang up his spikes in his prime. Speaking after a first-round playoff loss to Philadelphia, Barber told reporters there's more out there than football: "I have come to the conclusion that this is not going to define me," said Barber, who figures to have a busy retirement. Most will simply look back on his career as one of the league's best running backs of his era. "You're a warrior," Philadelphia defensive back Brian Dawkins whispered to him after the game.

GOLF: Don't count on pro golfer Vijay Singh's record 18th PGA tour victory since turning 40 to be his last. After winning the Mercedes-Benz Championship in Hawaii, the PGA's first event of 2007, the Fiji native said he planned on playing-and winning-for years to come. "If [Fred Funk] can win at 48, what makes me think I'm not going to win when I'm 50?" Singh asked. "If I'm healthy and playing the way I'm doing right now . . . five, six, 10 years, I don't know. I'm just going to keep going."

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