The point is often made that John Calipari and Nick Saban have much in common. Both coaches recruit at the highest level, succeed at the highest level, and their importance to their respective states transcends that of simply being a coach. Plain and simple, Alabama and Kentucky fans, probably to a fault, hang on their every word and (even rumored) move. That fact explains why some Bammer fans are feeling a little less than comfortable after news broke this week that Nick Saban’s agent spoke with regents from University of Texas about potentially replacing Mack Brown.
First of all, I don’t believe that Nick Saban will leave Alabama nor do I believe that this news is of any serious consequence to fans of either program. However, if there is a program in college football that could make Saban an offer he can’t refuse, it would be Texas. This got me thinking about John Calipari. Is there a college basketball program out there that could tempt Cal to leave the Big Blue Nation? I think not, but let’s take a look at a few factors that would influence such a decision.
- The Money. Tradition be damned, the dollar bills would be the most persuasive argument Texas could make in their flirtation with Alabama’s head man. Nick Saban, who makes $5.6 million a year, is the highest paid coach in college football. Rumors of what Texas may be willing to pay Saban have ranged as high at $10 million a year–a salary that couldn’t be matched no matter how many arms and legs Bama’ fans would be willing to donate.
Calipari, the highest paid coach in college basketball, makes nearly $5 million a year. In college basketball, Cal’s salary is (mostly) the exception, not the rule. He is making football money that most other schools would have an extremely difficult time paying a basketball coach. But does a school exist that could/would produce the awe-inspiring money offer that Texas would be capable of extending to Saban? Probably not. Football is the driving economic force at nearly every school. Traditional “basketball” schools with the allure of a football program like Texas–Duke, UNC, Indiana, UCLA, Kansas, Louisville–would not have the outrageous resources available to make such an astronomical offer that would be required to even tempt John Calipari. Texas has billionaire boosters that simply don’t exist in college basketball.
- The Region. Texas, like Alabama, is a football crazed state. The fans from the top of the sport (Cowboys, Longhorns, Aggies, etc.) to the bottom of the sport (high school football is scary in Texas) have a rabid obsession with football, an interest that may exceed the love that the state of Kentucky has for basketball. This obsession, along with a variety of other factors, has led to what is probably the most talent-laden football state in the country. There are enough high-caliber athletes in the Lonestar State to staff multiple, elite football programs without a coach ever needing to exit it’s borders. In football, having talent in your backyard is essential to success at the highest level possible, an oft overlooked factor in Kentucky’s football woes. It is an uncommon event for an elite talent to go very far from home when choosing a college in football. Saban wouldn’t have to try very hard to find talent in Texas and this would be an attractive factor for him, although the talent in Alabama is no slouch.
This is not usually the case in college basketball. The talent in the state is usually of very little importance, much to the chagrin of Kentucky fans that want to “put Richie in”. In fact, I would wager that when considering a high-exposure college basketball job, a perspective coach puts very little weight on the in-state basketball talent–a factor that I expect weighs heavily on the mind a similarly situated college football coach. This is especially true for John Calipari, as has been demonstrated by his cross-country travels this past week. Cal knows that he can pull basketball players from California to New York with very little trouble and because of this, no basketball program would be able to entice him with a pitch on the in-state talent. The late, great, RJ Corman’s jet makes the world Coach Cal’s oyster.
- The Exposure. Alabama has no problem with exposure, let’s make that clear from the get go. Texas, however, is a national powerhouse that has unlimited potential when it comes to branding and exposure. From the Longhorn Network, which is simply insane when you think about it, all the way down to the universal “hook-em horns” hand gesture, perhaps no program of any type in the country can generate the coverage that Texas can when doing well. Even Alabama.
Once again, I think that it would be nearly impossible to find a program that could surpass the exposure provided to John Calipari at Kentucky. The Kentucky brand exposure that Calipari has maximized since his arrival has surpassed, in my opinion, even Duke’s. Every young and talented basketball player in country wants to have the chance to play at Kentucky. While Coach Cal has definitely been the most important part of this, it would not be possible for him to do it at a place that doesn’t provide a platform at least equal to Kentucky’s. In my biased opinion, I don’t think that platform exists.
In football, there are some places that could tempt a coach like Nick Saban away from the power program they are already at when they are doing extremely well. In basketball, if a coach is succeeding at Kentucky in the way that Coach Cal is, I don’t think that any college team could pull him away.