Saban to Texas? Why it never happened

Nick Robbins, Contributing Writer

When Alabama and Texas met at the Rose Bowl for the 2010 BCS National Championship game, it was a matchup of programs heading in different directions.  

Two historic programs, two historic coaches and two totally different outcomes. Some say that night in Pasadena, California, kickstarted Alabama’s dynasty, while others say Texas hasn’t returned since then. 

The two coaches on the sidelines that night had similar stories. Mack Brown and Nick Saban were both born in 1951, and each started off as graduate assistants at their alma maters. The two would have similar careers in the 1980s and ‘90s, both being assistants at various programs, Brown on the offensive side of the ball and Saban on the defensive. By the late ‘90s both would be coaching at strong programs, Brown in Chapel Hill at University of North Carolina and Saban in East Lansing at Michigan State. Both would then jump to historic programs with Brown at the University of Texas and Saban at Louisiana State University. Saban won his first national championship in 2003, while Brown won his first in 2005.  

They met on that January evening in 2010 each in search of their second title, only this time Saban had jumped from Baton Rouge to Tuscaloosa, following a quick NFL stop in Miami. Saban would get his second title that night, followed by five more. Brown wouldn’t get another title; he would retire from Texas in 2013. 

Before Brown retired in 2013, University of Texas administration officials were considering replacing Brown in 2012. Texas was a far cry from that Vince Young-led team that captured the nation’s heart in 2005 and the people in charge in Austin would have done anything to get back to that status as the kings of college football. Meanwhile Nick Saban and Alabama had just captured their second straight national championship, blowing out Notre Dame in the 2013 BCS National Championship.  

Not long after Alabama beat Georgia in the SEC title game in an instant classic to grab a birth in the national title game, the wheels in Austin began to turn about hiring Saban to replace Brown. It was feared Brown had lost his touch and that Saban would have fit perfectly in Austin.  

According to author Monte Burke, a friend of Nick Saban’s agent reached out to University of Texas System Board of Regents member Wallace Hall and informed him Saban was interested in the job. Soon after, members of the board of regents met with some of the power players in Texas Football to discuss the possibility of Brown retiring and working in TV and Saban taking the head coaching role. Texas reached out to Saban and some, including ESPN’s Paul Finebaum, believe they were close to striking a deal.  

“I think Saban was closer to going to Texas than we were led to believe,” Finebaum said in 2015. 

Texas was ready to pay Saban whatever he wanted. Saban’s original eight year, 32-million-dollar contract with Alabama was close to expiring and the board of regents was ready to potentially double that. Brown wasn’t ready to play ball though, and he wanted to stay in Texas. With Brown still in place as coach the deal fell through. Those same University of Texas System Board of Regents members tried to reach out to Saban’s agent again in 2013 after Brown was fired but Saban was more interested in working in broadcast than coaching Texas at that point. 

After the 2013 firing of Brown, the two programs went in opposite directions. Saban and Alabama rebounded from 2013 heartbreak and would win three more national championships. Texas would hire Charlie Strong from Louisville, who lasted two years. Then they would grab Tom Herman from Houston, who would last three years. When the two teams meet in Austin on Saturday, former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will be at the helm for the Longhorns.  

While it seems it has worked out great for Saban, it hasn’t worked out too badly for Brown either. Brown took five years off from coaching before returning to Chapel Hill in 2019, taking over the North Carolina Tar Heels 21 years after leaving. Both Brown and Saban have legacies in the sport, but Brown has one title while Saban has seven. 

Would Saban have been able to steady the Longhorn ship in 2013 and lead them to glory? Or would Texas have struggled leading Saban to hold his four national championship wins close by? Who would have taken over in Tuscaloosa? Would Alabama still have success in the playoff era? When the two schools meet for the first time since that 2010 BCS National Championship it will be hard for Longhorn fans to not think, “What if Saban came to Texas?”

Kickoff from Austin is set for 11 a.m. CT on FOX.

Questions or comments? Email Austin Hannon (Sports Editor) at [email protected]