Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Inverse Saban Effect: Why Bama Can't Get a Basketball Coach

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So, this is going to be another departure from my typical writing subjects. No. It isn't really another satirical post like my  Crimson Tide Name Starter post from last year....which I reposted as an April Fools joke, and it got 500 instantaneous hits. Hey, it's funny. Go read it. 

Crimson Tide Name Starter at QB


No. I want to talk about a subject that doesn't really involve football, and really, Auburn altogether. 

I found myself really wanting to call into the Paul Finebaum show and talk on this point, because I feel like everyone is missing it. But, intelligent conversations are not exactly their bread and butter...and I don't want to wait on the phone.

I want to talk about the fiasco that is the Alabama basketball program and its rather gaping vacancy at head coach. Specifically, why it is that no coach is lining up outside the AD's door to interview.

But first, let's discuss the Saban Effect. What is the Saban Effect? 

Let's back up. With Stallings out the door, NCAA sanctions entered the picture. DuBose was the head coach for the next 5 years. With a see-saw tenure that ended in shame an ugly intra-office affair, Dubose was out and Franchione was in. After two short seasons, he bolted for TAMU. Things smoldered as he had publicly stated he wasn't leaving and was succinctly offered a 10 year, 15M deal. 

Then Mike Price showed up and the dumpster fire began.  I won't go into all that. If you are a fan of either Auburn or Alabama, you know the stories.

Despite a single decent 10-win season with Mike Shula, the program all but burned down.

Mal Moore had tried a little bit of everything at the head coach position after Stallings. He had hired from within. He had hired NFL-pedigree coaches. He had hired up-and-coming coaches from mid level schools. Nothing seemed to work.

And then they signed Saban the Savior. The one and only man that could do the job. Insert your euphemism. They hit it out the park. The rest is history. Blah Blah Blah.

Every other team and fanbase in the SEC feels the effects. Particularly, the main rivals of Alabama have suffered, producing the most prolific coaching carousels in football history. 10 win seasons, rival wins, SEC Championships and even National Championships no longer guarantee tenures.

Why?

The Alabama Fan Base.

The Alabama fan base doesn't accept failure, of any sort. In fact, they demand  winning. Now. And, they demand 10 win seasons every single year and sometimes even 10 win seasons aren't good enough. They don't care WHY why they lost. They just want to win...and win big. And, they are willing to pay whatever it takes to do so, from paying the coaching staff, to the training facilities, to the stadium itself, which is more modern than half the NFL stadiums out there.  Despite being in one of the poorest and most uneducated states in the United States, Alabama sets the bar on spending with its football program, and does so by having a fan base obsessed with THEIR program winning TO A FAULT. Despite the rankings for income and education, despite the fact that UAT is a MAJORITY of out of state students, the average Alabama fan is willing to shell out whatever the University asks, money, blood, sweat, and sometimes first born children, to ENSURE their program wins.

Mal Moore got it right with Saban. Here is a man who stays out of trouble,  has revolutionized recruiting, continues to have a legacy of NFL-talent every single year, and became the highest paid college coach (and will continue to be) in history, and he has become the most prolific and consistent winner in modern football.

The price? He has to deal with the most obnoxious, conceited, entitled, and typically uneducated fan base in America, and perhaps the world. He pulls it off. Somehow.

Despite bringing an entire generation nothing but success (yes, we have entered an era where some fans have never know The Struggle) and glory back to The Capstone, he has to deal with insanity. He doesn't play the right guys enough. He plays a guy too long. He doesn't win big enough. He doesn't throw the ball down the field enough. He doesn't run the ball enough. He is too conservative. And Lord HEP the man when he has looses. The fact is, he can't get a sack-fumble-touchdown on every defensive play and he can't score 12 point TDs every play on offense.

Where were we going with this? Oh, that's right.

So, Anthony Grant has been dismissed as Alabama's basketball coach following a very ho-hum coaching career at  Alabama after being the hot name at VCU.  He took Alabama to the NIT final in his second year  and into the NCAA tournament in his third. Three mediocre seasons later, he is on the street begging for change.  Just kidding, Grant was heavily compensated (to a fault, it would seem) for his time, which was one of the major reasons he was fired.

Despite a winning record in both his overall and SEC games and getting Alabama to The Dance in 2012, Grant spent the entire 2015 under a fan-induced fire storm, knowing that he HAD to make a tournament appearance or he was out. Sure enough, Grant was fired despite a record above .500 and beating Auburn TWICE.

Speaking of Auburn, Auburn's basketball program appears to be on the rise after hiring Bruce Pearl in 2014. The move sent shockwaves throughout the sport, as a flailing Auburn program, which had never really known wide-spread success, managed to hook the hottest name in available coaches. Though Alabama certainly had a chance (and the fanbase was calling for Grant's head already), there wasn't a move to secure Pearl...or one-up Auburn once Pearl was signed. Auburn didn't set the world on fire with their 2015 regular season, but their run in the SEC Tournament was a sight be behold. The Tigers run, and their top 20 recruiting class, were being talked about Nationally. I hypothesize that Grant was doomed in 2015, regardless, BECAUSE of the across state hire of Pearl.

Well, the first half of the job was done, and done quickly. Grants gone. But there isn't a new coach at Alabama.

Gregg Marshall from Wichita State was the name we kept hearing. I think most people, myself included, expected him to be the next coach at Alabama. Why? Well, Alabama can...and will...throw any amount of cash needed to get what they want. Though Marshall has had outstanding success at WSU, everything would be bigger and better at Alabama. The money would be more. The facilities better. Not to mention the road to the NCAA being easier each and every year. Sure, you have to play Kentucky, but one could say that playing them each year would be a terrific pedestal. But, he didn't sign.

It led me to wonder why.

Obviously, I don't know the real reason why, but I can speculate. And my speculation is called "The Inverse Saban Effect."

Saban is one in a million for all of the reasons I listed above. Even before he came to Alabama, he was probably the best coach in college football. He is the best recruited in football. He continues to reload each year despite a high NFL turnover rate. He came in and won nearly immediately. And, despite the down years, the Alabama football program had a long standing foundation of success that he built upon. And, that is very important. Lastly, he can deal with the unique stresses of dealing with the Alabama fan base.

The future Alabama basketball coach will have to embody and exhibit all of the same qualities.

It's ironic that if it weren't for Saban and the success that he has brought the football program, the same demands wouldn't be levied against the future basketball....and all Alabama....coaches.

There are really 2 options: hire an up and coming coach or hire an established and successful  coach

From the articles I read, it would appear that mid-major coaches are the focus of the coaching hunt, yet I have my doubts that any of these guys would really consider a move to Alabama. Though they all want the bigger money, which Alabama is prepared to offer, there is the looming cloud over Alabama that says "if you don't win here...and win immediately...you will be fired. And, even if you do win...you better keep doing it." Taking the Alabama job...and not immediately winning....would be professional suicide. The leash on the next coach will be very short, and failure at this level would probably end, or at least set a coaches future at a major program back a decade. Even if a coach did produce immediate results, the pressure to continue to perform at a very high level would induce an enormous amount of stress. We saw the Inverse Saban Effect with Bama's main rivals in Auburn and Tennessee. Mediocrity, even after enormous success, wasn't enough to keep a coach employed when the coach across the state was winning as much...or more. Chizik is case in point. He won almost immediately at the highest level, but the stress of keeping up forced him to make some mistakes in recruiting and coaching. 2 years after a national championship, he was fired. He is back to being a defensive coordinator. The same can be said for many others....take Muschamp for another case in point.

So, what about established major conference coaches? That's easy. Why leave a program where a coach has already established the foundation of success, where he can continue to sell his program BASED on its success? The money could POTENTIALLY be more, but it's a bird in hand. You could go from 1 million a year for 5 years at, say, Arizona for 2 million a year for 5 years at Alabama, but be fired 2 years later with only a fraction of the money...and find yourself having to take another job for 0.5 million a year. Or, worse yet, be without a job entirely for an unknown amount of time.  I understand that's an assumption, but you don't take raises when you get fired. The fact is, when you get fired, you never come out on the better end of the deal. It would behoove you not to coach at a school with such a high demand and a short leash. And, again, as an established coach, they last thing you want to deal with is a fanbase who thinks they know basketball better than you. Or who expects you to win it all each and every year, despite being in the era 1-and-done players and the parity of college basketball.

Again, it goes back to a fan base who demands immediate success. The talent at Alabama isn't on par with the top teams in the SEC, and it make take a few years to really see the benefits of recruiting and implementation of a system. Nope. The future Tide coach would have to be so far-and-away a better coach that he could win games with inferior talent.  Saban was the kind of coach that managed to win in his second year, despite not having all of that in place. The margin of error for the future Tide basketball coach is razor thin. Could it be done? Yes. Recruiting for basketball is easier (as a single player or two pays dramatic dividends) as opposed to football. But, it would take a very unique coach.

Ultimately, there are only a handful of coaches that can fit the bill. Like Saban, these are the top names in college basketball. Calipari, Coach K, Pitino (though it appears they are after his son) come to mind. They can out coach you. They can out recruit you. And they are used to the stress of fanbases who expect them to be in the Final Four every year. But the advantage that Alabama had when getting Saban was that he would be leaving a disastrous situation in the NFL and there were no other major college coaching vacancies that could rival Alabama.

And THAT is the real issue here. Saban may be a one-in-a-million coach, but the timing was astronomical odds.

There simply are no established winners, who can come in win NOW, make immediate strides in recruiting, and deal with the stress of the most rapid fan base in America and all of their.....issues. On the flip side, up-and-coming coaches cringe at the thought of not living up to the Typical Tide Fan's expectations of basketball. (let's be real, none of them really care about basketball, they just want to win everything)

Nobody wants that level of stress in their lives. Nobody can live up to the expectations. That's why no one is in line to take interviews at Alabama. It's the Inverse Saban Effect at its finest. The fan base has become disillusioned the believe that because of it's generational (and maybe all time) football coach, that they deserve and are due a top-level basketball program. To get it, they will throw money at it, and anyone under the bus who doesn't make it work, just as they have always done. Except this time, they are on the other side of the equation. Auburn has the coach they should have gone after. Now they are seeing how the other side lives.


I blame Saban.

Rohl Tahd.