HOOVER, Ala. -- The question had to come. At some point during SEC media days, someone was going to ask Nick Saban about Texas. The rumors. The $100 million offer. The chance to leave Alabama.
It took more than 20 minutes but the question finally came, the last from the horde of reporters in Hoover: I was curious if Texas did make you an offer to be their coach, was it anywhere close to $100 million, and what was your level of interest in that job?
Saban handled the question with grace. He denied any interest. He denied any offer. He denied ever speaking to anyone about it. And to his credit, he didn't explode despite giving the same response for what must have felt like the millionth time.
"Well, I didn't have any conversations with them," he said. "Nobody offered me anything. So I guess if I didn't have any conversations with them, I didn't have very much interest."
But what came next is why we in the media ask the same question 600 times. Because every once in a while you'll gain a little insight.
"I think the University of Texas is a fantastic place, and they've got a lot of wonderful people there, it's a great institution," Saban said. "But this is about the station in my life where we are. We moved around a lot. If I had to do it over, I'd have just tried to stay in one place and establish a great program, not have all these goals and aspirations of things that eventually, you know, you weren't happy doing."
There it was: "If I had to do it over ..." Saban wasn't talking about Texas anymore. He was speaking to Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and even Miami. He was speaking to every place he'd ever been and every fan base he'd ever let down by leaving. He was speaking to his family, too. If anyone was affected by the packing and unpacking, it was them. He was finally looking back on his career and wondering, "Why?"
Saban was a nomad before arriving in Tuscaloosa in 2007. As a head coach or assistant, he never stayed in one place more than five years. He always left for the next challenge, the next opportunity. He fled Toledo for the money and a shot at coaching in the NFL. He left Michigan State after growing tired of playing little brother to Michigan. He got out of LSU when the itch of the NFL returned. He realized the pro game wasn't the right fit, so he got back into the SEC as soon as possible.
But what if he'd just stayed put? Maybe not at Toledo, but Michigan State. Maybe not at Michigan State, but LSU. What would have happened?
It's scary to think what he could've done at Toledo. In his first season, he won nine games and very nearly went undefeated. Had he stayed, he might have created a Boise-esque program, dominated the mid-majors and made a run at the NCAA's all-time wins total.
If he'd stayed at Michigan State, he would've become a cult hero much like his successor Mark Dantonio. "Yeah, I thought he'd be successful," Dantonio said this spring, "and he told me that as he was leaving. He said, 'We can win a national championship,' and I believed him." Together, Saban and D'Antonio might have shattered the Michigan little brother complex once and for all.
He probably never should have left LSU. It was the perfect program for him. There wasn't the handicap of being a mid-major like at Toledo and there wasn't an in-state rival to deal with like at Michigan State. In Baton Rouge, he had it made. He won a national championship early on and would have stacked up more titles had ambition not drawn him back to the NFL.
Really, though, Saban could have won anywhere. But like so many other talented men, he was unable to rest until he felt as if was at the top of his profession. He could have stayed at Toledo or Michigan State or LSU, but he would have always wondered, "What if?" He would have wondered about the SEC and the NFL and all the challenges he'd never tackled. Every job offer would have been enticing. No raise would have been enough.
He may regret the path, but he can rest easy now knowing the NFL wasn't right for him and that Alabama was. Seven years later, he's glad to have roots firmly planted in Tuscaloosa.
"'I'm very happy at Alabama," he said. "Miss Terry is very happy at Alabama. We certainly enjoy the challenges we have there, the friends we have established here. This is where we just choose to, you know, end our career someday. It wasn't anything about any other place, it was just about where we are and what we want to try to do with the rest of our career."
Five years ago things might have been different. He might have seen all those millions Texas offered and jumped at the opportunity. But now he understands there's something to staying put, there's something to establishing a great program and enjoying the fruits of your labor.
For a man so intent on never looking back, it was refreshing to hear him wonder aloud what he'd done if he could only start over.