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Three Legends Depart; Michigan's Money Grab

Last week three of the greatest coaches in football history ended their iconic runs--Alabama coach Nick Saban, New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick and Seattle Seahawks' coach Pete Carroll.

They are three of the longest-tenured and most successful coaches in all of American sports. Between them, the three men won seven Super Bowls and nine collegiate national championships. 

The circumstances of their departures were very different. One coach (Saban) left voluntarily--and surprisingly--while the other two (Belichick and Carroll) were pushed out. And while Saban retired, both Belichick and Carroll want to coach again. All are over 70 years of age. Saban and Carroll are 72; Belichick is 71. 

A few quick statistics: Saban coached Alabama for 17 years and won six national titles. Earlier, he won another natty with LSU. Belichick coached the Patriots for 24 years and won six Super Bowls. Carroll coached the Seahawks for 14 years and won one Super Bowl; earlier he won two national championships with USC. 

Some perspective on each of these legendary coaches:

Pete Carroll:  Carroll is one of only three coaches to have won a national title in the college ranks and a Super Bowl in the pros. (The others are Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer).

He should've had two Super Bowl wins, but instead of handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch for the game-winning TD, Carroll called an ill-advised pass that was intercepted at the goal line by the Patriots Malcolm Butler in the closing seconds.

The team announced that Pete's departure was a "mutual" decision and "amicable," and that he would remain with the Seahawks as an advisor. He tried to be a good soldier at his press conference, but finally admitted that "I competed pretty hard to be the coach...but went along with their intentions."

Carroll's style couldn't be more different from the stoic Belichick and the irritable Saban. His energetic, smiling, gum-chewing, player hugging demeanor turned off some, but I was a fan.

He resurrected the USC program and turned it into the best in the nation from 2002-2008, winning at least 11 games and ranking in the top four for seven straight years.

His last game as a head coach was our 2009 Emerald Bowl on December 26,  when his Trojans beat Boston College 24-13. 

I got to know Pete pretty well during the week. He's a warm, charming, engaging fellow. He also doesn't know how to say "no," so he agreed to every autograph or selfie request, and his team was late for every function during the week except the game itself.

He also ran a very loose ship. The Trojan players came late, left early, didn't always pay attention, smoked a lot of pot, snuck girls into their rooms, and did signifcant damage to the team hotel.

Bill Belichick: From 2001-19, the Patriots' coach won an unprecedented six Super Bowls, nine AFC championships and 17 AFC East titles. In the age of NFL parity, it was an astounding record.

All of Belichick's success came with Tom Brady at quarterback. After their relationship soured, Brady went on to win a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while Belichick was unable to win a playoff game without Brady.

If there was any doubt about who was more important to the Patriots--Brady or Belichick--those results seemed to settle the debate.

Like many others, I'd grown tired of his Belichick-the-grouch routine, scowling in his trademark hoodie, refusing to answer simple questions, and treating the media with disdain.

After the Pats had three losing seasons in the past four years, hitting rock bottom this year with a 4-13 mark, team owner Robert Kraft had little choice but to show his legendary coach the door.

Nick Saban: Saban spent 28 years as a college football head coach, and his record is an incredible 292-71-1, with no losing seasons. His first head coaching job was at Toledo in 1990, where he went 9-2. He coached Michigan State for five years and then LSU for five, winning the national title in 2003.

The worst loss of Saban's career came during his tenure at Michigan State, when Tyrone Willingham's Stanford team crushed the Spartans, 38-0 in the 1996 Sun Bowl.

I was never a huge fan of Saban's. He always had a pained look on his face, like he had just eaten a bad hot dog. In his early years he was known as "Nick Satan" by his detractors, partly as a result of his dictatorial regime at Alabama, where he forced the resignation of many athletic department staffers who apparently "weren't committed enough" to the program.

But he earned my respect over the years, not just because of his winning, but because of how he adapted to his players' strengths and college football's evolution to a passing-centered game. He also mentored and resurrected the careers of Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian. And he mellowed somewhat, even smiling occasionally.

To me, Saban really proved himself in the 2018 national championship game, when, trailing 13-0 at halftime, he pulled star quarterback Jalen Hurts and replaced him with freshman Tua Tagovailoa. Alabama went on to win 26-23 in overtime. 

Saban's teams won at least 10 games and ranked in the nation's top 10 for 16 straight seasons, from 2008-2023, every year but his first. Incredible stuff.

Following him is like following Bear Bryant, Tom Osborne, or John Wooden at UCLA. The lucky man who attempts to fill his shoes will be Kalen DeBoer, who just led Washington to the national championship game. 

Good luck, Kalen. You'll need it.

Michigan's Money Grab. A couple of days before the national championship game, Michigan's "Champions Circle" collective launched a new fund-raising effort called "Those Who Stay NIL Campaign."

The collective asked potential donors to "show our players how much we appreciate them" and to "stop our rivals from stealing our players. The run to the 2025 National Championship starts now."

So this is where we are now. The team that wins the national title has to raise more money to pay its players huge NIL guarantees so that other schools don't poach them.

And the cost of buying and retaining players is rising by the day. To wit:

Mississippi Burning: Ole Miss running back Quinshon Judkins, who has rushed for over 2,700 yards and 31 touchdowns in his two years in Oxford, shocked his coaches and teammates last week by entering the transfer portal and quickly announcing he was heading to Ohio State.

This is a guy who was a three-star recruit, was given an opportunity to play at Ole Miss, and became a star.  Rumor has it that he was getting $1 million in NIL money but wanted more. He asked for 1.4M next season and a housing upgrade. The Rebels said no, and off he went.

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, who's brought in six defensive studs from the transfer portal and has his star QB, Jaxson Dart, returning, will now have to open his checkbook and find a replacement for Judkins.

Welcome to the New World of college football.

Harbaugh Pushes Revenue Share: Yet there are some who believe the players should get paid even more. Like Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh (who may be on his way to the NFL in light of looming NCAA penalties, heavy defensive graduations, and his two top offensive players (Blake Corum and JJ McCarthy) declaring for the draft.

Throughout the week leading up to his national championship win over Washington, Harbaugh reiterated his belief that college players should be paid more than NIL money. 

Harbaugh believes the players should get a share of the huge TV rights fees that have enriched everyone else in the game.

His suggestion? Have those who benefit most from the players' efforts--coaches, administrators, schools and conferences--all take a 10% pay cut and give that money, along with 10% of the TV rights, to the players.

Good luck with that.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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