In 2014, Nick Saban had meetings about potentially leaving Alabama to work for ESPN.
That’s according to the new book, “The Leadership Secrets of Nick Saban,” from Al.com senior sports editor John Talty.
Those who have heard Saban castigate the media for propagating “rat poison” might be surprised to learn that the legendary college football coach, 70, allegedly once considered joining the worldwide leader.
Prior to the 2013 season, Saban met with Nick Khan, who was then a sports media talent agent at CAA who represented Kirk Herbstreit, Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd, Mike Greenberg, and numerous others, Talty reports.
Late into the season, however, Alabama’s national championship aspirations ended with a devastating loss to in-state rival Auburn. The game, often referred to as the “Kick Six,” saw Auburn’s Chris Davis catch a short field-goal attempt from Alabama kicker Adam Griffith, which he ran back for a touchdown to put the Tigers on top, 34-28.
When the season ended, Saban is said to have “empowered Khan to reach out to ESPN with the message Saban was thinking about the next chapter in his career and considering whether media should be a part of that.”
Khan, now the co-CEO of WWE, then apparently set up a meeting in Pasadena, Calif., with Saban, his coaching agent, Jimmy Sexton (also of CAA), and Syracuse’s Athletics Director John Wildhack, who was then a senior executive at ESPN.
Saban is said to have “zeroed in” on the possibility of joining ESPN’s “College GameDay,” and “quizzed” Wildhack on a number of questions about life at ESPN, organizational structure and if it was like “working on a team” — a characteristic that was of much importance to Saban.
Saban, of course, opted to stay at Alabama, but his interest at the time was apparently very real.
“Not because we didn’t have a good conversation and not because he wasn’t intrigued by television because he was intrigued and he was interested,” Wildhack said in the book. “If he wasn’t interested, he would never have done it in the first place. But I also didn’t think he was ready to step aside as being a coach.”
Khan reportedly told Wildhack, “Coach is really appreciative of the meeting, found it to be very informative and has a lot of respect for GameDay and ESPN, but at this point in his career, he still has a desire to coach.”
It’s unclear if Herbstreit caught wind of the alleged talks given his curious comments made about Saban’s future in 2014. When the subject of Saban returning to the NFL came up, the ESPN analyst said, “Nick Saban will be on the set with us before he’s a coach in the NFL. I really believe that after he’s done at Alabama, whenever that time is, whether it’s a year, five years, whatever it is, I really believe there’s an analyst there about becoming an analyst.”
The college football landscape over the past decade would have been astoundingly different if Saban shifted gears, career-wise. Between Alabama’s three national titles in recent years (2015, 2017, and 2020), not to mention the countless star players who have been part of the Crimson Tide program, who knows if the athletes may have gone elsewhere if Saban wasn’t at the helm. Further, Saban’s exit would have likely set up an epic coaching carousel that could have rendered a new world order in the sport.
“The Leadership Secrets of Nick Saban” will be released on Aug. 9.