Alabama football has certainly survived its fair share of tragedy – namely, the Mikes (DuBose, Price and Shula). I didn’t forget you, Ray Perkins. The greater Tuscaloosa community has endured actual disasters, including the wrath of one of the most powerful tornadoes in recorded history. In general, the folks of west-central Alabama handle hardship with equal parts grit and grace. And it usually takes little more than a spoken “Roll Tide” to reaffirm Bama fans’ belief in a sunny future.
But there is one dastardly act to which the Alabama fan base reacts without sympathy or civility – abandonment.
And that threat is casting a long and dark shadow over the program right now, as rumors swirl about a possible Nick Saban move to Texas following Mack Brown’s resignation. If Saban bolts for Austin, what hellish chain of events might follow?
Will the self-assured to arrogant disposition that has permeated the Heart of Dixie for seven years evaporate, leaving behind dry, cracked remnants of a golden age? If so, something dreadful will seep through those cracks – rage, lots of rage.
The skies will darken, smiling will be illegal and civilization will regress to a primitive state of existence devoid of happiness. Once well-behaved people will devolve into packs of rabid, blood-thirsty beasts.
Maybe that’s an exaggeration. But remember the last time a coach led the Tide to a 10-win season only to abandon Alabama for a job at a Texas school after losing to an underdog Auburn team?
The year: 2002. The coach: Dennis Franchione. The crime: ditching Bama for Texas A&M. The reaction: anger and disillusionment. The usually congenial folks of the Yellowhammer State were incensed out of their Southern fried minds.
The once-lovable Coach Fran was promptly vilified by furious frat bros as “Coach Ran,” advertising their anger to the world on a bed sheet draped across the front of the frat house. Franchione was also labeled with vengeful nicknames such as “Fran-phoney” and “Coach Fraud.”
He was no Saban, but Alabama fans loved Franchione (albeit briefly) for the same reason they adore their current coach – he won football games. He took over in 2001 with the Crimson Tide coming off a disappointing 3-8 season, and by Franchione’s second season, Alabama posted a 10-3 record.
Franchione’s immediate success prompted Alabama officials to offer him a 10-year contract extension. Instead of signing it, Franchione resigned and was named head coach at Texas A&M after publicly stating he would not leave Alabama.
Alabama fans had to face a stark reality – Bryant-Denny Stadium is not the holy of all holies at the center of everyone’s Promised Land. Folks could not wrap their heads around Franchione’s reasoning. How could any place be better than Alabama?
But that shot to the collective ego was not what really had people up in arms. It was the manner in which Franchione sneaked out the back door without so much as a single goodbye or explanation to his players. Loyalty is a big deal with Alabama fans, and Franchione had none. That’s why everyone who cared about the University of Alabama despised him.
So what happens if Saban abandons Alabama? Would he? And if so, why?
I don’t think it’s about the money, as some suspect. At this point, Saban is past the days of initiating bidding wars for his services. The guy’s been at the top of the college football pay scale for a while now.
What it ultimately comes down to is this: where does Nick Saban want to finish his career? In other words, will he be as loyal to Alabama as it’s been to him?
With that in mind, how badly would the Tide fan base take being dumped by a guy who they’ve all but deified?
There are plenty who possess enough perspective to realize their allegiance lies with the university and not one man. They represent the fiber that binds the Crimson Tide fan base together.
But what about the fringe? Though the backbone remains intact, will the rest of the fabric of Bama fandom unravel at the seams?
Perhaps the answer relies more on how Saban handles the situation than the decision itself. Either way, the sun will still shine on Crimson Tide football each fall. Though I suspect more than a few Tide supporters would never forgive him for not retiring at Alabama.