Spring games: they're "real football" the way Pomeranians are "real dogs" or Crocs are "real shoes." They fall into their categories by way of technicality, and they're acceptable absent any alternatives, but the overall standard of quality is unerringly poor.
Such a fact isn't normally revelatory or worthy of mention, if it hadn't been for Tide fans sending an absurdly large message (92,138, to be unnecessarily precise) to new coach Nick Saban this past Saturday. Yes, the Alabama Crimson Tide held their spring game this past weekend, and they packed the place.
Since it couldn't have possibly been about the quality of the game — even Alabama fans are far more intelligent than that — there had to have been a reason so many fans showed up. And that reason is that nearly 100,000 people adamantly expect new coach Nick Saban to do what he did one year (win a national title) and not what he has done for the rest of his entire coaching career: Sell out his team for the most money possible.
Yes, Nick Saban is the supposed savior of Alabama football, a program with a much prouder history than their last 10 years (two bowl wins, three winning conference seasons) would indicate. For those raised outside the Tide State (probably not Alabama's real state nickname), Alabama was insanely good while most of those 90,000 fans were growing up: During the 1960s and 70s, Alabama lost only 32 games and won six national titles. If Bear Bryant's decomposing corpse ran for governor, he'd take at least 75% of the popular vote (the other 25%? Auburn fans who don't think 1972 made up for 1971).
The message from Tide fans is crystal clear: "We remember domination, and we expect it again very soon." No program's fan base brings 90 large to a spring game if they're looking forward to an 8-4 season–even if the last 10 years make Tide fans look forward to exactly that.
They're putting their hopes and dreams in the hands of the man who's on his fourth head coaching job in the past eight years and who's never had a longer tenure than five seasons. His first head coaching gig was in 1990 at Toledo, where he went 9-2, the most wins for Toledo since 1983. Naturally, he immediately left for an assistant gig at Cleveland.
He came back after a handful of seasons in the shithole that is the Cleveland Browns franchise and landed at Michigan State in 1995. His first four seasons were at best tepid, going 25-22-1. Once he finally broke through with a nine-win season in 1999, he bolted so quickly at the offer from LSU that he left the bowl game to the jarringly inept Bobby Williams. Michigan State has yet to recover.
Once he got to LSU, his record improved considerably, going 48-16. After all, c'mon, it's LSU. And although his title was the only one of the entire BCS era to be split, it was still a national title. The LSU era was an unqualified success for Saban, so naturally he left after only five more years.
Once he got to the NFL, he realized what so many other college dynamos before him have quickly learned: you can't recruit and schedule your way to five easy wins a year. Combine that with the Daunte Culpepper Experience, and he went just 15-17 in two years in Miami. During that second season, former Miami coach Don Shula appeared on Monday Night Football where he questioned the integrity and decision-making of the Alabama athletic department for their quick dismissal his son, former head coach Mike Shula, then for their courtship of Saban, who spent large quantities of time denying any interest in the Alabama job.
Naturally, Saban joined the Tide weeks later.
And that brings us to this weekend, where 92,138 Tide fans filled Bryant-Denny Stadium to welcome the prodigal son of coaching and to tell him, in no uncertain terms, that he is expected to bring back the 1960s and 70s.
It can't end well.
One of two things will happen: Either Saban will (by Alabama standards) underachieve and be ridden out of town, or he'll succeed, which has proven to be a constant and immediate precursor to his next step: following the money somewhere else. It's what he's always done, and there's no reason to expect he'll do anything differently now.