Although it will firmly establish that I was born somewhere in the Grover Cleveland Administration, there is an image of Nick Saban that I can’t shake. The picture is of Saban, a proud West Virginian, walking along behind every coach in the Southeastern Conference carrying a hod — a sort of a bucket specifically for carrying coal — and shoveling some white-hot lumps into every single pair of britches along the way.
Depending on how things go, Saban’s Alabama football team might be in a stretch where it could have a detrimental effect on the future of five – that’s five – consecutive coaches on seats that range from uncomfortably warm to blazing-inferno-of-burning-habanero-peppers hot.
That is in no way Saban’s concern, of course. Once a coach starts worrying about the other guy’s job, he’s no longer doing his own. Saban has been notoriously tough on his own former assistants in matchups over the years. To take an example from another sport, Billy Donovan loved Anthony Grant like a brother but that never stopped his Florida basketball teams from beating Alabama every time.
To be fair, Ole Miss isn’t likely to hang on to interim coach Matt Luke after this season, regardless of last Saturday’s outcome (short of a Rebel win or, less likely, an asteroid strike.) This week may actually be a no-lose situation for Kevin Sumlin, barring another one of those 66-3 scores. Once the members of your own Board of Trustees have already declared war on you (and purchased a tank), you can probably only help your situation as a 28-point home underdog.
Then comes Arkansas, where Bret Bielema’s SEC win percentage is in imminent danger of dipping below the Mendoza line. The word is the Arkansas administration remains patient, but if dominos start tumbling all around, who knows?
Then comes Butch Jones. Then comes Ed Orgeron, probably safe because of the short-timer rule. But if LSU doesn’t look competitive, what then?
That potential wave of unemployment isn’t noted in order to proclaim how awesome Alabama is. The Crimson Tide gets plenty of public love and adulation and if there is the occasional commentator or opposing fan that doesn’t kowtow, that’s not a problem. What is a problem, for the SEC at large, is the number of programs that are poised on the brink of panic, in some cases for the second or third time since Saban came to Tuscaloosa.
There are level heads out there to be sure, but at some places, they are running headlong into the old adage about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Most fans are true to their school, but every fan base has its anarchists, a desperate few willing to endure a loss of historic proportions — even actively wishing for such a loss if they believe the aftershock would bring about a sweeping change and the coming of Jon Gruden or Chip Kelly or some other incarnation of the Shining Knight of Unending Touchdowns.
That’s not just to say “some fan bases are crazy,” either; Alabama had its share of fans who pulled against a 2006 win over Auburn because they thought it would extend Mike Shula’s tenure.
Alabama’s only mission this week is to play as well as it can play. The ramifications for Texas A&M, or a future opponent like Tennessee, shouldn’t be on the radar. All Saban needs as an accessory is his trusty, if occasional abused, headset. The hod full of sizzling embers has to be someone else’s problem.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.