Sunday, December 8, 2013

An Open Letter to Nick Saban

Dear Nick,

You're probably the most important person in the state of Alabama. To some that might seem like a bad thing, a reflection on the over importance of college football in the state of Alabama. For me that's not at all how I view it. Alabama football is a rare positive in an otherwise unremarkable state. Alabama doesn't boast a large population, we're not particularly well off financially. We are generally overlooked, and if not, Alabama is derided as often as anything else. We don't have an NFL, MLB, NBA, or even NHL team. Major accomplishments attributed to the state are almost exclusively tied to Alabama football. They give us something to be proud of, they give us something to smile about. Alabama football is the ambassador for the state of Alabama to the rest of the country.

It might not seem like much, but it means something to be able to go to other states, or other countries Nick-Saban-Mean-mug and be able to proudly wear University of Alabama gear. This love for Alabama football spreads beyond our state, as we have fans throughout the country impacted by our love for college football. In the end, Alabama football is great for the Alabama economy, it pumps much needed money in, and it becomes more than a source of pride, it ends up putting food on people's plates. Coach Saban, you help give us something to be proud of, and you've done so much to help our state.

We all owe you a debt, and our gratitude. The success you've had at Alabama, and the other things you've done (such as your help after the tornado in Tuscaloosa) has had a real and meaningful impact. You, your wife, your family, they all mean so much to this state. I wish every A-Day game had been packed (including ones I was absent for), I wish every Alabama game could have been packed for four quarters (including ones I wasn't at). I wish that we as fans could go back and do a little more to show our appreciation, and our support for you and your process, and to savor every moment. However, the past is the past, my hope is that going forward we (I) can do a little more, show a little more appreciation.

We all know you can't go on forever at Alabama, and I'd like to think none of us would want you to coach until you're physically unable to continue. But, as long as that fire burns, as long as that desire is there, what better and more appreciative place could there be? To even hear a whisper of you leaving is to drudge up the insecurities that many of us within the state have. Per capita, there is no greater football fan base, but there are insecurities that come from being a relatively small, poor, southern state. We want you to want to be the coach of Alabama football. That's as much the reason that Bear Bryant is such a legend here, it's not just the success, it's the fact that his love for Alabama football was only hindered by his physical limitations.

We're blue-collar, dirty under the fingernails, hard-working, and often unappreciated. That sounds a bit like what it might be like to come from West Virginia, and I suppose that could explain how someone could become as motivated as you, Coach Saban. You're hard-working, and your success as a football coach mirrors and compliments the success of Alabama football. You deserve appreciation, and so does our state. You are tied to us, our success is your success, and your legacy is tied to us. Alabama football has been transformed by you, but so has the legacy of Nick Saban. They said you had no loyalty to a program, but you've been loyal to ours. They said you were always looking for a new challenge, but you've embraced the constant challenge of Alabama football, to be the very best in the entire country. You've been called a liar, and have had many undeserving things said about you, but your legacy at Alabama is already something special, and could be even more. The notion of Nick Saban as a mercenary is nearly erased, and what has nearly been etched in stone is that Nick Saban is unequivocally one of the greatest college coaches of all time, with no qualifiers.

The loss to Auburn was crushing, and yet it was an inevitability of college football. That's part of what makes success in football so special, the fact that it's so incredibly difficult. I hope we Alabama fans can be appreciative of the BCS bowl we're headed to, and not fixate on what has become such a rare occurrence. After the loss, I took some (selfish) solace in knowing this meant that you missed out on a perfect chance to retire on top. The three straight BCS championships wouldn't serve as time to go out like Michael Jordan did the first (and second) time he retired. I felt like the pressure has been released, and while I regretted the irrational behavior by some fans, I also saw it as a resetting of expectations, of goals. I also didn't see how a heartbreaking loss to Auburn would be the enduring memory that you would want to be left with.

Looking forward, Alabama isn't trying to tie together a near impossible string of national championships, they're trying to break in a new quarterback, they're trying to figure out how to insure that Gus doesn't get the better of Alabama twice in a row. It's a chance for Alabama to rise to a more realistic challenge. Alabama has great facilities, a great recruiting class, great coaches, but hopefully we now fully appreciate that doesn't mean titles are just going to come one after the other. They have to be fought for tooth and nail, and even then, there needs to be a degree of good fortune, certain things need to happen.

Alabama vs. Notre Dame in the BCSCG might be the pinnacle of your career. It might be the exclamation point on your time at Alabama. I'd like to think it won't be, I'd like to think there's still some greatness left, but there are no guarantees. I'd hate to think that the loss to Auburn could potentially be the end of a wonderful relationship, it seems like it would cheapen the whole affair.

I don't know how this relationship will end, but I've tried my best to enjoy it while it lasted. I think there's some good years left, and I think that would be best for the both of us. However, I can't control that. All I can really say is that your time thus far at Alabama has been greatly appreciated, and that I hope you've enjoyed it as much as we have.

Sincerely,
Philip

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