Forbes magazine, in its September 1 issue, has named the individual whom they think is the most powerful person in all of sports in America. Being a fan of the Alabama Crimson Tide I was not completely surprised when I learned that they chose Alabama’s head football coach, Nick Saban. With a record-breaking contract, total control over one of the nation’s premier football programs, and a transcendent impact on the University of Alabama itself, Coach Saban clearly has incredible power in the world of sports.
The author of the Forbes story, Monte Burke, wrote that no coach, including all of those in the professional leagues, can match Nick Saban’s combination of money, control, and influence.
Thus Nick Saban, a hugely controversial coach because of how he left both LSU, and then the Miami Dolphins in January of 2007, becomes the first college football coach to be featured on the front of Forbes magazine since it was created in 1917. I expect the magazine to become the most purchased Forbes issue in the history of the state of Alabama. I also hope the editors and market staff had the foresight to print many extra copies.
Forbes argues that the money and control the University of Alabama gave to Saban, “not to mention his eight-year, $32-million contract," has raised the stakes to an unprecedented level.
While Forbes has added to its influential product over the years by producing lists such as The World’s Richest People and The Celebrity 100, as well as the World’s Priciest Cocktails, there is no such list with this article, just Coach Saban all by himself.
Interestingly, the idea for this article began six months ago, after Burke finished profiling Memphis University basketball coach John Calipari, whose team made it to the finals this year, only to lose. Burke, who often focuses on sports business for Forbes, noticed the similarities between CEOs and coaches and thus began this research. He writes: "I started looking around, going, ‘Who’s the biggest fish in this pond?’" Burke said by phone to an Alabama sports writer: "It struck me that person was Coach Saban."
Why Saban? Well, for beginners there is the money issue. Saban’s $32 million contract over eight years actually pays him closer to $5 million per year, economist Andrew Zimbalist told the magazine. And to explain Saban’s power, Forbes details the oversight he has over the program. Burke cites the fact that Saban was handed the keys to the program as a show of total power.
The writer supports his argument that Saban’s hire goes beyond football by explaining Saban’s positive influence on the University of Alabama’s capital campaign, the increase in the quality of college applicants, and the way he controls every aspect of his program.
The UA football program generated $54 million in revenue last year, Forbes reported. $32 million was pure profit. Football’s financial success helped pay off the school’s $130 debt from capital improvements. Don’t tell me football does not help a major university in a positive way. When I attended the University of Alabama in the late 1960s football was big, but it was not a business like today. And the university was not then the hugely successful academic institution that it has become since then. UA President Dr. Robert Witt says that Saban has affected the quality of students who now enroll at Alabama. Before his hire, 54 percent of the applicants were in the top quarter of their high school class. This past year, that number was at 57 percent, according to Forbes.
In the Forbes article Burke refers to Nick Saban as "Big Brother," referring to the control he has over every aspect of the university. This control even extends to donors. According to Burke, Saban interviewed two dozen or so boosters to determine their worthiness to act as Bama ambassadors. This is huge since a previous coach almost destroyed Alabama with a personal scandal, and the receiving of money from an avid booster.
To further emphasize Nick Saban’s power, Burke notes that unlike in the NFL, Saban does not need to contend with an owner or a general manager. The coach answers to no one but himself and his record. If he wins he is fine. Fans will adore him and the school will keep him, unless he creates a scandal.
Burke asks the question that real fans want to know: “Can he deliver? Will Saban win?” "We expect him to be successful," Dr. Witt told Forbes.
Added Burke: "It’s pretty clear to me that for a lot of important folks at Alabama, the answer (to the winning question) is yes."
Yes indeed. Saban will win! He has already recruited the number one class in football earlier this year and has a lineup of deep talent already in the pipeline for the future. Personally, I have no doubt that he will win and before long he will win big. Nay sayers remind me that he will not stay at Alabama. I think they are wrong this time. We shall see. All I know is that college football at places like Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Auburn, Ohio State, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Texas and Oklahoma is very, very big business these days. No wonder Forbes became interested.
We shall learn if Alabama has made progress quickly, since they open on August 30 against the number nine ranked Clemson Tigers, in Atlanta. Kickoff is only five days away. I am ready. I will be decked in crimson and white ready to see it when the kickoff comes this weekend. Rollllllllllllllllllllllllll Tide!
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Note to John Armstrong:
Forbes does not say that Saban is the most powerful PERSON in sports. It says that he is the most powerful COACH in sports. There’s a big difference. I don’t know who they would pick as the most powerful person, the CEO at ESPN? Maybe Forbes will tackle that subject someday, but that was not addressed in this Forbes article.
Yes, the Southeastern Conference is already feeling the fear-factor of facing the rebuilt Crimson Tide that is set to roll again. Kentucky beat them here a few years ago and the fans thought they had won the national championship and tore the goal post down.
For a believer there has to be something “obscene” in what college sports has become.But I guess football always was a big deal at Alabama. I remember a guy that played for them in the 50’s named Bob Harrington who went on to become a nationally known evangelist-“The Chaplain of Bourbon street”. I heard his testimony before I entered the ministry. Here is his story- I think there is a lesson for us healers here.
Of course you are right, the lead is “The Most Powerful Coach in Sports.” Still, the claim is amazing in itself.
Football is also BIG business at Texas A & M. Franchione left Alabama for $1.7 million. That is not what Saban negotiated but it isn’t pocket change either. I wonder if Saban will bolt to College Station also. There seems to be a special road between Aggieland and Tuscaloosa starting with the Bear in 1957 after he lost the # 1 ranking at
A & M.