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Nick Saban, LeBron James Are Battling for Second When It Comes to Barbershop Content

In this week's #DearAndy mailbag: the barbershop battle between two titans of the sports world, the factors that compel coaches to hop between Power 5 jobs and an examination of the heightened interest in spring practice.

Attorneys for LeBron James have sent a cease-and-desist to Alabama’s football program, and you have questions…

From Trevor: Best barbershop scene in cinema? I’m going with Coming to America.

You are correct, Trevor. (Have you ever heard of Cassius Clay?) And had Eddie Murphy come after Nick Saban angry about the use of the barbershop format for a show, I might be inclined to take Eddie’s side. I also probably would side with Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, whose Barber Shop interview segments were must-watch segments for young Andy while watching Prime Time Wrestling or Saturday Night’s Main Event.

But LeBron James was a little late to the party on this format, so he probably shouldn’t be too mad at Alabama because the Crimson Tide had Saban and former players such as Julio Jones and Eddie Jackson talking in Alabama’s locker room barbershop for a segment called “Shop Talk”.

James is upset because his video platform Uninterrupted features a show called “The Shop” that includes James kibitzing with fellow sports luminaries. SI legal analyst Michael McCann will drop in soon with a detailed legal analysis of this situation, but allow me to offer the lay perspective.

The concept of capturing the barbershop conversation is not new. Murphy’s Coming To America scene parodied it. The Barbershop series starring Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson and Cedric The Entertainer built a franchise around it. Producers of radio and television sports talk shows across the country have pitched shows that seek to simulate the vibe and tone of a barbershop sports debate.

There’s plenty of room in the sports media universe for both shows in spite of the similarity in format. But the best part of this entire kerfuffle is this quote from Saban:

“I think LeBron James is a great player,” Saban told reporters. “There’s been at least 20 barbershop-type things I’ve seen. I didn’t even know he had one. I’m sorry anybody could be offended by something we were just trying to have fun with. I enjoyed it and we’re going to continue to do it.”

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Now I can’t stop imagining Saban and Miss Terry curled up on the couch, sharing a bowl of popcorn and watching Beauty Shop. So thank you, LeBron, for setting the wheels in motion to put that image in my head.

From Dan: Why would a quality coach leave a Power 5 job for a non-blueblood Power 5 job, outside of alma mater reasons? I’m thinking of perhaps a Jeff Brohm to Arkansas type of thing. Purdue has money, they can pay if they want.

This scenario assumes Purdue (or another school of its ilk) will pay like the non-blueblood trying to hire away the coach. Arkansas obviously wouldn’t be in play for Brohm next year because the Razorbacks just hired Chad Morris, but it’s interesting Dan brings up the Hogs. The willingness of Arkansas to fork over big money for assistants helped lure Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin, which had been much more successful in the Big Ten than Arkansas had been in the SEC.

But yes, if a school in Purdue’s situation is willing to spend some of the gobs of money pouring in from its conference TV deals, there is no reason it should lose its football coach to any program other than one that has a chance to compete for a Power 5 conference title on a regular basis. Let’s assume Brohm keeps improving Purdue. That likely would put him at the top of the wish list for every school with an opening after this season. But let’s say Kliff Kingsbury doesn’t survive at Texas Tech or D.J. Durkin gets another job and leaves Maryland. Objectively speaking, those are better jobs than Purdue. But they aren’t that much better that it’s worth leaving if all other factors (read: facilities, pay for the head coach and pay for assistants) are equal.

Job security is better at a Purdue than it is at one of those places, where they’d be quicker to fire a coach who doesn’t achieve a result that seems fairly unlikely most years. (Ask Bielema how that move to Arkansas worked out.) It might be better to stay there and wait for a mega-job to open. There is an appreciable difference between Purdue and a program that can regularly compete for its conference title. That’s the time to jump. But if the move is just above parallel, a coach such as Brohm should strongly consider staying put and trying to land the big one from where he is.

From Michael: Has spring practice changed or just the public perception of its importance? I am sure QB battles like Ohio State’s happened in the past but they weren’t so public and the upperclassman who lost couldn’t just transfer and play right away, but is it even more than that?

Spring practice is exactly as important as it used to be. It’s the time for less experienced players to compete for open starting jobs and for coaches to institute major schematic changes. The difference is the popularity of the game and the demand for content. People used to be satisfied with watching football in the fall and pining away for it for six to eight months of the year. But then some smart people who run television networks, radio stations, fan sites and sports magazines realized that the same people who love college football in the fall are dying to watch it/read about it/talk about it the remainder of the year. So we have given you wall-to-wall coverage of spring football because it is the only thing that features actual football content between the months of January and August. That beats the hell out of putting out yet another way-too-early top 25 list. (We’ll do plenty of those, too. Don’t you worry.)

Before, discussion of those spring quarterback competitions used to be limited to the bars and barbershops. (Please don’t sue me, LeBron.) But now they play out on talk radio, on social media and on conference cable networks. They are valuable pieces of content for a nation starved for football. The graduate transfer rule does add a little more drama to the mix because it brings in the possibility that one of the players in a position battle might wind up at another school, and that engages the fans of other schools looking for a player at that position.

But the main reason spring practice seems more important is that the owners of various media companies realized that it would be stupid to ignore a month’s worth of football practices at each school when their customers desperately want college football coverage. The demand was always there. It just took us a while to realize a lot of you—not all of you, but a significant number—would consume the April supply the same way you would the September supply.