Bama's Faustian Deal Still Unsigned

I'm a lawyer. That's what I do. It's not necessarily the core of my existence, but it does shape my sensibilities about a number of things, including sports. Perhaps that's why I was a little surprised to read in the Birmingham News that Bear Bryant impersonator Nick Saban has yet to actually sign an employment contract some 4 months after his hiring.

Now, it's not necessarily uncommon not to have an employment contract. Many of you probably don't. I don't. But we don't make $4 million a year. We also don't have "Ramblin' Man" by the Allman Brothers Band as our cellphone ringtone. Slick Nick practically has it as a personal credo.

Honestly, would this man lie to you?

As Ray Melick points out, unsigned employment contracts are a sort of tradition at Bama. Dennis Franchione never signed his, and was thus free to run off to Texas A&M without being impeded by space, time, buyout clauses or pesky scruples. Mike Price likewise never put his John Hancock on the dotted line before leaving for his fateful trip to Pensacola, and in the process just flat didn't get paid.

Birmingham attorney Russ Campbell points out in the article that most of the important stuff can be boiled down to about three pages, which in my legal exprience is largely true. I even know of one nationally prominent attorney with a big Atlanta firm who used to enjoy inserting offbeat "Act of God" clauses into multi-million dollar agreements, which provided that parties would be released from their contractual duties in the event of a global chigger outbreak or Elvis Pressley's return. No one ever even commented on the language, maybe because they never read it.

And Alabama, repeatedly bitten by the NCAA infraction bug, is reputed to have one of the longest and most legally complicated contracts in the country, designed to penalize wayward coaches. In fact, one conspiracy theory is that Saban might have some trouble with the language designed to punish rulebreakers. He might be uncomfortable with the idea that one of his assistants could step outside the lines and get Saban's paycheck clipped in the process. However, he's not going to come out in public and say as much, because that would be like admitting that there's a 33.3% chance that recruiting violations will be committed on his watch. Of course, at Auburn that would be shockingly low.

Another explanation is that Saban is such a Type A personality that he simply doesn't have time to deal with lawyers unless they're 6'5 310 and capable of improving his questionable front seven. I find this the more plausible of the two explanations. Heck, no less a man than Mark Richt went five months without signing his new contract last year because of far more pressing concerns.

But with a guy like Saban, who has such a sterling reputation for loyalty, you just have to wonder. Is he afraid of commitment? Is he waiting to see if Tommy Tuberville renegotiates his deal? With Saban you can never be quite sure. And that's something Alabama fans had better get used to.

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