Tide weathering storm of Saban rumors

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The road to the interstate hasn't yet been blocked. Flights still leave the airport daily. Gas stations regularly pump unleaded for around $3 a gallon. And the grocery stores here remained stocked with canned goods and water.

If a disaster is about to occur at the University of Alabama -- and Nick Saban leaving for Texas would qualify -- you wouldn't know it in the sober expression of the town the school inhabits.

The campus is quiet. The most noticeable buzz comes from libraries and coffeehouses, where a growing number of students twitch and hurriedly whisper to one another with a book in one hand and caffeine in another. The only audible plea for an extension is directed at professors as finals are being administered here this week.

Make no mistake, if Saban left, the school and the city of Tuscaloosa would be devastated. He's the largest and most important figure here, without question. His meaning to the community cannot be understated.

It goes beyond coaching a handful of games each fall. This is a town that has always identified with coaches. Paul W. Bryant Drive cuts through the center of UA's campus and runs alongside Paul W. Bryant Museum, and a street over you'll find a statue of Paul W. Bryant standing only a few yards from a bronzed statue of Nicholas L. Saban.

There hasn't yet been a real threat to the statue and the promise it holds. Saban's feet remained entrenched at Alabama amid the swirl of rumors and speculation. As Bill Battle, the school's athletic director, said on Wednesday, "It's business as usual," as the recruiting season kicks into high gear and bowl practice remains a week or so away.

But until Saban signs an extension to stay at Alabama, the level of anxiety will grow here and abroad. The more days that pass until a deal is reached, the more frenzied the rumor mill will become.

The fact remains that Tuscaloosa has been Saban's longest stop as a head coach, and even after seven years, there are many who wonder what kind of loyalty to Alabama exists in him. Would a 62-year-old man -- a man who's "too damn old" by his own estimation -- embark on a rebuilding project at Texas? Would he leave a finely tuned dynasty he's built in Tuscaloosa for a giant question mark in Austin?

Until everything is said and done, there's no way of knowing. There are those here who scoff at the idea that an extension would do anything to stamp out the Saban-to-Texas speculation. Until the Longhorns have a replacement for Mack Brown, the talk will likely continue.

But the truth is this is nothing new. People here are used to Saban's name coming up for coaching jobs, whether it's in college or pros. It was only some eight months ago that he signed an extension through 2020, and even then it wasn't enough to keep his name out of coaching searches.

Frankly, what's happening now is the price of doing business in college football. Alabama and its fans understand that. There won't be any mad dash for supplies around Tuscaloosa between now and the end of this saga. There hasn't been a single bonfire or couch burned in protest.

This is the rumor mill at work, and until it's over we'll all find a way to survive.