Which NFL Team Will Hire Nick Saban After Alabama-Georgia College Football Championship Classic?

After winning his sixth College Football Championship, and fifth with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Nick Saban’s coaching stock can rarely have been higher.

It wasn’t so much the actual winning against Georgia in an overtime classic in Atlanta that was so impressive, as much as how Saban went about overturning a significant halftime deficit in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. With Jalen Hurts struggling to move the ball through the air, the Tide head coach took out his starting quarterback and plugged in a true freshman in Tua Tagovailoa who had never started a regular-season game.

It was a gutsy call at a crucial time in the biggest game of Alabama’s season—one that had the potential to make Saban, for all his successes, look clueless in front of his protege Kirby Smart.

You know, by now, what happened next. Tagovailoa threw three touchdowns to one interception, including the walkoff score that cliched an 18th National Championship for the Tide. Saban looked like a savant. It’s the kind of decision you can point to if you earn a reported $11.125m per season. (We do need to have another argument about obscene coaching salaries while the players get nothing, another time).

Aren’t there still some NFL teams looking for a savant of the football coaching kind this offseason? The Bears and Raiders have filled their vacancies with Matt Nagy, the former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator. The Raiders threw Croesus’ kingdom at Jon Gruden. But the Giants, Cardinals, Lions and Colts all still have head coaching positions they need to fill.

Is it too weird to imagine Saban in the NFL again? In a Sports Illustrated piece last November, Albert Breer looked back on Saban’s two seasons with the Dolphins with more fondness than is fashionable. “Saban took a listless 4-12 team that endured a midseason coaching change in 2004, flipped the roster, battled past a 3-7 start, and finished 2005 on a six-game winning streak with Gus Frerotte as his quarterback,” Breer wrote. Saban’s Dolphins tenure hinged on missing out on Drew Brees in the spring of 2006. Hindsight is rarely less than brutally unfair, as another SI piece pointed out. “At the time, the Dolphins had legitimate reasons to be wary. The QB [Brees] had a torn right labrum. He’d made one Pro Bowl. He hadn’t won a playoff game.”

Of the teams still with vacancies, only the Giants and Colts could really be described as listless. The Lions have talent on both sides of the ball but need discipline and the know-how to close out games rather than chase them. The Cardinals should contend for the playoffs with a quarterback, perhaps Alex Smith. Saban has proved that he can win with a game-manager in Jalen Hurts, and Smith is coming off the best season of his career.

And no, college football is not the pros. If the Tagovailova experiment had gone wrong on Monday, Saban would have been back for another season with the Tide because his giant reputation is plenty big enough to squish mistakes by now. If something similar happened, and failed, with the Giants’ playoff hopes on the line? Saban might need a new identity whenever he entered New York City in the future.

Still—hasn’t his resume at least earned him another shot at the pros in 2018?