12/11 Daily Cavalcade: Nick Saban & Cleveland

Posted Dec 11, 2012

Daily Cavalcade: The brilliant and handsome college football thoughts of the day.

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During the offseason, when I'm feeling particularly saucy, I'll be doing regular blurbs on the college football world and commentary on the big events. Follow at @ColFootballNews for the updates on the latest posts. Stay handsome.

12/11 Sorry if this blurb sucks, it's not my fault … living the rest of my life as one of the gods of college football coaching just doesn't float the boat anymore.

"People should know when they're conquered." ... The absolute last thing that Nick Saban wants to talk about right now is his future coaching tenure as the head man for the Cleveland Browns, and I know this first hand having been blasted by him for running with the story that he was going to leave LSU for the Miami Dolphins … and a few weeks later he left LSU for the Miami Dolphins.

I have no idea if he's going to bolt for the big leagues after the BCS championship, but if that's really on the table, let me please offer one simple word of advice from an outside observer with a clearer head, thanks to getting seven hours of sleep for the first time in four months.


Coaches by nature are nomadic creatures. No football coach ever believes he's going to stay in one place for a few decades, because legends like Bobby Bowden, Don Shula and Frank Beamer are a rare breed. Not only are they always looking at the next possible opportunity – a few big losses turns a halo into a noose, in Bowden's inimitable words – but they're always looking for the ego validation. At Saban's level, money is nice, but there's always going to be that big NFL head coaching hole out there that needs to be filled. Nick Saban is Nick Saban, but Bill Belichick is Bill Belichick.

There's no question that Belichick is the gold standard of head coaches right now, but as great as he is, and as much as everyone wants to gush over his ability to evaluate talent, none of this is happening if he hadn't lucked into Tom Brady – and it was luck - becoming a legend. That's the NFL – either you have Tom Brady, or you don't. Either you have Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, or you don't. Either you have a No. 1 overall draft pick like Eli Manning, Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning, or you don't.

There might be free agency, but NFL head coaches don't have the control they desperately need and want, and that's what drives the college guys who make the jump batspit crazy. College legends can walk into three living rooms and instantly fill the need at linebacker, while NFL coaches have to hope that the guy they drafted turns out to be decent. The odds are overwhelming that he won't be.

Saban is about to win his third national title in four seasons and become a four-time champion with no end in sight. He's a young and energetic 61 with the fire, the ability and the respect to keep the Tide in the running for the national title for at least another five years, maybe more, and close out his career among the true legends in the history of college football. But that's not enough.

Of course, anyone with Saban's ability, talent and ego wants to be the guy who brings a Super Bowl to Cleveland, especially considering his Ohio roots, but it's not up to him, even if he gets control of the personnel. That's up to the gods of football luck, and no coach seems to quite be able to understand that.

Watch or read any piece on some of the great recent sports dynasties and they all have the same sort of theme. Yeah, the 1990s Chicago Bulls were amazing, but if they were able to keep it together for just a few more years, maybe six titles would've turned into eight. Yeah, Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones did phenomenal things to make the Dallas Cowboys a powerhouse, but there were at least two or three more Super Bowls there for the taking if those two could've gotten along. Yeah, the Edmonton Oilers won a Stanley Cup after giving away Wayne Gretzky, but there would've been several more if the ownership wasn't in such a bad spot.

And that's what the Saban era of Alabama football will be about if he leaves again for the NFL, even if the program brings in another big name with impossible shoes to fill. Yeah, Alabama won three national titles in four years, but with the recruiting class coming in and the infrastructure in place, this run could be something at a historic level.

And it still can be. Nick, coaching in the NFL is fool's gold. Being considered for the Mount Rushmore of college football head coaches should be more than enough.

12/10 Sorry if this blurb sucks, it's not my fault … I thought the fullback had it, the fullback thought I had it, and now I'll have to live with it for the rest of my life.

" Oh no, my frankfurter, my frankfurter fell! It was really good. I can't believe that I dropped it.." ... Can we please have at least three bowls as gripping and as entertaining as the Army-Navy game? That was as cruel an ending as any Army player or fan could've ever have dreamed possible. In some way, shape or form, and in some walk of life, we've all been in quarterback Trent Steelman's place.

We've all come oh so achingly close to achieving some dream or goal, only to have it shattered in disastrous form. However, as raw as the emotion was, and as heart-ripping as it might have been to see Steelman's despair, let's just hope that losing to Navy by fumbling away the potential game-winning drive is the worst thing that he'll ever have to face. Compared to what these guys will have to do, losing a football game, any football game, even that football game, is hardly that important.

" You shouldn't hang me on a hook, Johnny. My father hung me on a hook once. Once." ... I'm now going to sum up every conversation I've had with those who voted for Johnny Manziel for the Heisman.

Fiu: Who'd you vote for?
Voter: Manziel.
Fiu: That's cool. How come?
Voter: The Alabama game was amazing.
Fiu: Did you see the Florida or LSU games?
Voter: Excuse me, I just got a text … I'm sorry, what's that?
Fiu: You didn't care that he didn't come through against Florida and was lousy against LSU?
Voter: That Florida game was his first game. It's not fair that he didn't get the tune-up against Louisiana Tech.
Fiu: So that game doesn't count?
Voter: It was the first game of the year.
Fiu: So that game doesn't count?
Voter: I'll give him a pass.
Fiu: And LSU?
Voter: He wasn't THAT bad.
Fiu: Three picks, 276 yards on 56 throws, 27 rushing yards in a key loss isn't THAT bad for a Heisman candidate? You buried Collin Klein for less.
Voter: But Manziel beat Cam Newton and Tim Tebow's single-season yardage stats while playing in the toughest conference in the country.
Fiu: Yeah, but Cam was carrying a team to a national title and Tebow broke the 20-20 touchdown barrier for a quarterback, and he did it in the regular season. Manziel got to go against a Louisiana Tech team that finished dead last in total defense and rolled up decent days against two FCSers.
Voter: But Tebow didn't beat the No. 1 team in the country on the road.
Fiu: No question, but as Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray and Todd Gurley showed, he was hardly in exclusive company when it came to putting up decent numbers against the Tide. If McCarron doesn't go on that drive and LSU wins the week before, does Manziel win the Heisman?
Voter: Who'd you vote for?
Fiu: Te'o.
Voter: Jarvis Jones had the better season.
Fiu: Excuse me … I just got a text.

12/4 Sorry if this blurb sucks, it's not my fault … I woke up this morning and realized I just traded a yearly division battle with Urban Meyer for a yearly division battle with Nick Saban and Les Miles.

Before we get started, to update, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Alvarez will coach the Rose Bowl.

"Get it straight buster - I'm not here to say please, I'm here to tell you what to do and if self-preservation is an instinct you possess you'd better (bleep)ing do it and do it quick. I'm here to help - if my help's not appreciated then lotsa luck, gentlemen." ... Just before the 1989 NCAA men's basketball tournament, Michigan's Bill Frieder announced he was going to take over the head coaching job at Arizona State after he coached the Wolverines in the post-season. Athletic director Bo Schembechler wasn't exactly keen on the idea and famously held a press conference saying that "A Michigan Man will coach Michigan." Steve Fisher took over, Michigan went on an improbable run to the national title, and the rest is history.

It feels like we're about ten minutes away from Barry Alvarez stepping to a podium and saying, "A Wisconsin Man will coach Wisconsin" in the Rose Bowl, and that Wisconsin Man might very well be Alvarez.

Bret Bielema's move to Arkansas wasn't just a curious one – it's, at best, a lateral move, even if the school was puffy-chested enough to consider going after Les Miles – it was also sudden. No one saw it coming, and if anyone did, you can be absolutely certain that Dave Doeren might have put the NC State folks on hold until he at least had a shot to talk to Alvarez about the opening. The players didn't know anything, and Alvarez was reportedly caught looking at the third strike, but this can't be all that surprising.

Bielema is only 42, and while he built on the foundation and turned Wisconsin into even more of a national player than Alvarez did, this is still Barry's program and Bielema was simply the caretaker. No coach likes to be questioned or second-guessed, and Bielema, as the success started to come, really didn't like to be challenged. At Arkansas, he has a chance to make the program his.

As I wrote this summer, there was a night-and-day change in Bielema's attitude and demeanor at the Big Ten media days from past years. Urban Meyer was in the room, as were Kirk Ferentz, Bo Pelini, Brady Hoke and Mark Dantonio, but Bielema was The Man. He owned the place with two straight Big Ten titles under his belt and a swagger to let everyone know loud and clear who was currently on top.

But Wisconsin was still Barry's program.

For all the gushing done over Bill Snyder and the miracle he pulled off at Kansas State, what Alvarez did at Wisconsin isn't too far off. The facilities were in place and the fan base was a powder keg waiting to blow, but outside of hockey, Wisconsin athletics were awful. When Donna Shalala hired Alvarez away from Notre Dame, it marked the beginning of a change for the athletic department as well as the school, going from the sad and inept Don Morton veer offense and mediocre crowds to a Rose Bowl in five years. Despite getting plenty of offers from other schools as well as the NFL, Alvarez stayed, and now he's a living legend who still looms large over the university.

Remember, other than maybe Tom Osborne's departure from Nebraska, there haven't been any easier or smoother transitions out of coaching at a top program than the end of the Alvarez run. Bobby Bowden's finish was clunky; Bill Snyder's team stunk when he left; Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno left in disgrace; Pete Carroll bolted from USC in controversy; Urban Meyer left Florida weird – there's just no way for a great head coach to leave with ease, as we're now seeing at Texas and potentially Virginia Tech.

Alvarez might not have gone out with a Rose Bowl win, but his program was in good shape, he still had plenty of gas in the tank, and all the pieces were in place to keep the machine rolling, helped by the one year transition into the Bielema era.

Bielema did great things for the Badgers, and no matter how it's sliced, three straight Rose Bowl appearances is impressive, but to read a bit between the lines in various post-game interviews following the Big Ten championship win over Nebraska, Bielema seemed to bristle when it was brought up that going to Rose Bowls has been nice, but Alvarez always jabs that it's time to start winning them.

Arkansas is a school that has to compete with a slew of two and three-star recruits against the rest of the SEC, and Bielema proved he could do that in the Big Ten, but can he be a Point B to Point C guy? Yeah, not actually winning those two Rose Bowls was an issue – especially against TCU - and now it might be up to Alvarez to try to make one final big move to take his legendary status even further.

Even if it's just in a CEO sort of a role, if Alvarez takes over the Badgers for the game against Stanford and wins, he'll be 4-0 in Rose Bowls and will send a message that yes, it is nice to go to Pasadena, but only if you win. The expectations would be set that much higher for the next head man.

Bielema has to prove that he can win the biggest of big games at a place that hasn't been able to win the biggest of big games. Meanwhile, it would be one of the biggest stories of the season if Alvarez took one more shot at showing he has a little magic left.