On Jan. 7, Nick Saban will hoist the College Football Playoff National Championship trophy as confetti falls at Levi’s Stadium. It will be his seventh national title in college football, breaking his tie with Bear Bryant for most all time by a coach in the modern era and securing him, finally and unquestionably, as the greatest college football coach of all time.
Two days later, a handshake agreement that took place weeks earlier will become official. Saban is announced as the next head coach of the Green Bay Packers, promising at least one more Super Bowl with QB Aaron Rodgers to a starving fan base while also looking to clean up the one blemish on his pristine coaching resume...
It would be a seismic move in the football world, one that may not have an equal in the past quarter-century. A number of things will be fairly questioned: Saban’s age, how his previous NFL experiences have panned out, how his coaching methods might work on adults making millions of dollars.
And for this scenario to work, a few things must be in place. Saban must first be satisfied with his legacy in college football—and after this season, he will have the most titles in college football history, which will allow him to leave the Alabama program in the best shape possible for his successor. He would also have to be paid at least $10 million per year, an NFL salary that only Jon Gruden and Bill Belichick command. And he’d have to convince his wife, Terry, to move to a colder climate. (They will probably keep their Georgia lake house.)
But Saban coaching the Packers could be the coach’s best shot at winning the Lombardi Trophy and QB Aaron Rodgers’s best opportunity at getting another.
Saban and the NFL have never had the best relationship. He once called his years as the Browns defensive coordinator under Belichick the worst four years of his life. And we remember how things went in Miami: A decent 9–7 season in 2005 was followed by the decision not to sign Drew Brees coming off shoulder surgery and instead ink Daunte Culpepper. The Dolphins finished the 2006 season 6–10 with a third-string quarterback, and while Saban denied interest in the Alabama coaching job once the Tide fired Mike Shula, he eventually signed on with Bama.
But almost every year since then—especially since Alabama began on its path of historic success—Saban’s name gets thrown in the NFL mix. If it’s ever taken seriously, it’s usually viewed as a ploy by superagent Jimmy Sexton to squeeze a few more million out of the university. Last year Bruce Arians, a potential candidate for the Green Bay job this year, perked ears when he said Saban coveted the Giants gig. That went nowhere.
This time, the Packers job feels different. This is another legacy job like the Giants, which Arians pointed to as the pull for Saban. But most importantly, Saban gets to work with a generational talent at quarterback for the first time in his illustrious career.
Rodgers would instantly show Saban respect. Recall Rodgers telling Belichick “you’re the best” after their Week 9 tilt in Foxboro. He surely has similar respect for such a decorated and accomplished coach in Saban. But Saban’s Alabama quarterbacks have long just been part of his machine. In Green Bay, Rodgers is the machine. How many Rodgers’s improv acts will Saban withstand before his headset is in two pieces on the Lambeau grass.
No coach-quarterback relationship is perfect. Look no further than New England or recall two years ago when Sean Payton and Brees were coming off their third straight 7-9 season. These two would have to work out the kinks. But the idea that Rodgers needs an offensive-minded head coach to elevate him back to the Super Bowl just played out with Mike McCarthy and we saw what happened.
Our Albert Breer reported Monday that a coach who knows both Rodgers and McCarthy views their relationship as “it’s almost ‘who’s got the better call?’ …Two really smart guys, ultra-competitive guys.” So yes, someone like Josh McDaniels would be perfect for Rodgers and Green Bay ... if only McDaniels and Rodgers were two completely different people.
Saban would likely have his pick of offensive coordinators. What offensive mind wouldn’t jump at the chance to work with Saban and Rodgers in pursuit of a Super Bowl? Then he’d re-hire quarterbacks coach (and Rodgers’ favorite) Alex Van Pelt once he and the rest of the staff aren’t retained in Cleveland this season, work with Rodgers on the overall gameplan but would focus much of his attention on defense. Not since 2010 have the Packers had a top-10 defense, and Saban would endeavor to change that immediately.
Saban’s age is also something to keep in mind. The coach turned 67 on Halloween—If Rodgers, who turned 35 on Sunday, plays into his early 40s, that gives Saban just 5–7 years at the helm before he retires at 74. Both Saban and Rodgers could retire simultaneously.
Saban is perhaps the greatest program builder in modern football. His connections in and to the college world would only aid in Green Bay’s desire to once again draft well (as they did this spring). But he’s earned that reputation by coaching hard and having full control of the program, two things that may be difficult at this level.
His tough-love attitude could be outdated for this NFL and could crumble if he doesn’t win quickly. It’s worked for Belichick because of the results, but even the eight trips to the Super Bowl this century hasn’t been enough to prevent cracks.
But he’d have instant credibility with his players, several of whom he beat (read: blew out) during their college days. Most of his current players would hardly remember his Miami days, and a 2019 draft pick would have been seven or eight years old when he left the Dolphins. They would only know his mountain of success at Alabama and what it took to be the greatest.
In Green Bay, he wouldn’t be the czar like Belichick. Both he and general manager Brian Gutekunst would report to de facto team owner Mark Murphy (as would executive vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball.) The power structure there could work, though. Gutekunst is known as being easy to work with, and Saban would, at the very least, be given control of the 53-man roster in a power split similar to that in Atlanta and Seattle.
Saban to Green Bay would be almost a Faustian bargain for someone like him. Cede some control of the program to his GM and quarterback and, in exchange, win a Super Bowl or two while finally proving your NFL bona fides.
It’s all that’s left to do for the legendary coach, and there’s no better fit than this one.