Don’t get cheap on me, Alabama. I know $5.3 million a year seems like a lot — that’s about a million bucks per foot and an extra $100,000 per inch — but the reality is that, despite a raise that makes Nick Saban the highest paid head coach in college football, he’s still underpaid.
This isn’t a story about the plight of the college football coach. Nick Saban isn’t struggling to feed his family, so we can hold off on the PSA and the Michael Jackson ballad. The Alabama head coach is still making mind-boggling money, but in terms of what he brings to the University of Alabama he’s simply undervalued.
In the strictly commercial sense, Mack Brown should still be the highest paid coach in the country because Texas football is still the most profitable collegiate athletics institution in the country. That has more to do with Texas as a brand than the actual success of Mack Brown and Texas football (not to slight Mack Brown or Texas football); however, the revenue increase Alabama football has seen under Nick Saban along with the tangible successes on the field make Saban unquestionably the most valuable asset in college football.
Unlike the NFL, where far and away the largest expense are players, the largest expenses in collegiate athletics are the coaches and the support staff. Making Nick Saban the highest paid coach in the country obviously reflects on what the university thinks of Nick Saban, but considering that from before Saban’s first title in Tuscaloosa up until before last season, he had already increased revenue by 19 percent and made Alabama the seventh-most profitable entity in college sports, he simply merits more.
Yet, it’s not just that Nick Saban has made Alabama incredibly profitable — a lot of football programs are profitable — it’s the fact that he produces football players like Keebler elves make cookies (feel free to read into the elf comparison.) And by “produces”, I mean he recruits and molds football players like you or I rinse and repeat (I rarely repeat.)
The recruiting successes simply can’t be downplayed. Nobody in the country has had the sort of success on the recruiting trails of Nick Saban, and with the emergence of the SEC as the superior college football conference in the country that success has never been more difficult to come by.
People can say all they want about Saban’s methods on the recruiting trail, nearly all of which is purely speculative, but the reality is that Nick Saban isn’t doing anything more sordid than nearly every other coach in the country. He simply does it better.
Nick Saban’s value is all-encompassing, and based on Alabama’s returns, both in the bottom line and the win column, he is probably worth more than $5.3 million a season. It’s true that Alabama already spends more on football than nearly every program in the country, but they generate the second most revenue as well. Nick Saban is a big part of that.
Perhaps, Saban is content with the status that comes associated with being the nation’s highest-paid coach, but he could certainly demand more from Alabama. And Alabama would happily pay.
Makes you wonder what Bear Bryant in his coaching prime would warrant in today’s market. Short of time travel or secret government cryostasis, we’ll never know, and it’s a good thing, too. I don’t think there is enough houndstooth in the world.