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Nick Saban is college football’s $11 million man

Alabama extended Nick Saban’s contract for eight years and will pay him over $11 million this year. It’s totally worth it for Alabama.

Alabama announced on Tuesday the school had reached an agreement on a long-term contract extension with head football coach Nick Saban. The new contract keeps Saban in charge of the football program through the end of the 2024 college football season (January 31, 2025 to be exact), extending his previous contract by three years. Alabama gave Saban a $4 million signing bonus and will spread an additional $4 million out through the 2020, 2021 and 2022 seasons on top of Saban’s base salary. When you add it all up, Saban will be paid $11.125 million for the 2017 season, making him the highest-paid coach in college football.

Making Tuesday’s news even more important to the long-term future and stability of the Alabama program is the bump in pay to Saban’s assistant coaches. Keeping a coaching staff happy and steady is sometimes overlooked in college football but it cannot be stressed how important it is. Assistant coaches play a key role in recruiting, and as Alabama has shown, recruiting is truly the lifeblood of the program. Alabama will also pay strength coach Scott Cochran a salary of $535,000, which Football scoop notes is more than 18 head coaches made last year. Alabama is also paying top dollar for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll ($1.2 million) and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt ($1.3 million). Outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi also received a raise from $55,000 to $950,000.

Consider what Alabama has done since hiring Saban as a head coach after the 2006 season. The Crimson Tide have started eight straight seasons ranked in the top 5, and that trend will be certain to continue in 2017 when the preseason rankings come out. Preseason hype has been deserved as well, because Alabama has finished the last nine seasons in the top 10 and five of the last six seasons in the top four. In that stretch, Alabama has won three national titles to go with the one won in Saban’s third season in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has finished the last nine seasons inside the AP top 10, a feat not accomplished by the Crimson Tide since the 1959 season through the 1967 season under Bear Bryant.

Saban has simply built a powerhouse program at a place that was destined to be resurrected as a football juggernaut. Alabama was always in a position to do well in football after decades of program building under Bryant, and there were some good runs in between Bryant and Saban here and there with a national championship season coached by Gene Stallings in 1992, but it was not until Saban was given the keys to the program that the untapped potential resurfaced. Saban’s master plan after a dismal stint in the NFL got back to basics with recruiting. Having won a national title at LSU showed recruits that Alabama had a winner on the sidelines after a decade of mediocrity.

Alabama now regularly brings in the top recruiting classes in the nation, develops those players as part of a winning tradition to compete for and win SEC and national titles, and then sends a good number of those players off to the NFL through the draft. In this year’s NFL Draft, Alabama had 10 players drafted to set a new school record for most players drafted in a single season. Even more impressive is how high some of the draft picks from Alabama have been.

At Alabama, it’s not a debate between quality and quantity because the Crimson Tide do both. They have quality by the quantity. That’s thanks in part to Saban outlining the blueprint for the program and sticking to it. This despite now seemingly regularly having to replace coaches on the coaching staff. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was Saban’s reliable defensive coordinator before last season. Two of Saban’s most recent offensive coordinators, Jim McElwain and Lane Kiffin, have gone on to take head coaching gigs at Colorado State (now at Florida) and FAU, respectively. Steve Sarkisian, who replaced Kiffin briefly, is now in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons as offensive coordinator.

You may be wondering if paying a head coach so much money is going overboard. The answer is, yes, it probably is. But at Alabama, when the Alabama football program generates $103.9 million a year as it did in 2016, according to Business Insider, the validation for paying the head coach in charge of the program makes a little more sense. And because we are not yet at a point in time where paying the players is a possibility, paying roughly 10% of its football revenue to the head coach seems perfectly legitimate.

Nick Saban wasn’t about to jump ship and run to another job opportunity. Those days were long behind him. Rumors of his interest in leaving Alabama for Texas to replace Mack Brown were intriguing, but even if he was close to leaving for the Longhorns then, there is no reason to suspect Saban will leave Alabama for any job now. We have moved on from that possibility as Alabama has locked Saban in through the end of the 2024 season with the most valuable contract in the game. The scenario that sees Saban retire as Alabama’s head coach is now fully in view, with all to be determined being when exactly Saban calls it a career.

Saban will turn 66 during the 2017 season (his birthday is on Halloween), and by the end of his newly extended contract he will be 73 years of age. This is a coach who already has five national championship rings and will likely have at least one or maybe even two more to add to his collection, if not more, by the end of his contract. He will have accomplished all there is to accomplish in the world of college football. There will be nothing left to prove, as if there is anything more to prove right now anyway. Even if Alabama starts to come back to the pack a bit as other programs improve and attempt to crack the Alabama program on the national stage as Saban continues to age, Saban will remain a coaching legend.

The only thing left to wonder is if Saban will keep this program chugging along at this high a level for the next eight years or if the suggestions the game has passed him by will stir up along the way. We have seen it before with some coaches (Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno, Frank Beamer), but there just might be something different about Saban and Alabama. Saban continues to stick to his master plan but has shown the ability to adapt when needed more than some other coaches have in the past.

What we do know for sure is Alabama has put to rest any recruiting fodder from rivals that could use Saban’s age and contract against the Crimson Tide on the recruiting trail. Alabama is highly invested in Saban and the football program’s future, without question. Saban’s not going anywhere.

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About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
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  1. […] a contract extension and will be paid over $11 million this season. To some, the price to pay Nick Saban is worth the expense given the results he has produced on the field, resurrecting Alabama as a true dominant power not […]