MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Those unsubstantiated reports from 2007, the ones alleging Nick Saban’s agent contacted West Virginia about the vacancy Rich Rodriguez left behind, they didn’t seem farfetched to Joe Manchin.
“It might have been me at the time trying to lure him back,” the U.S. Senator joked Wednesday.
Manchin, a friend of the Saban family since childhood, was serving as governor back then. And despite a desire to see his pal coaching the Mountaineers, Manchin thought the real obstacle dated back to 1968 and the program’s reluctance to recruit the all-state Saban out of Monogah High School.
“I think one of the bigger mistakes WVU made was not giving Nick a scholarship,” said Manchin, who was recruited by WVU four years earlier. “Nick Saban was one of the most exceptional young athletes and young scholars to come out of North Central West Virginia. I’ve always thought if he was a WVU alum …”
After winning one national championship at LSU and three more at Alabama, Saban has become arguably the most powerful figure in college football. His Crimson Tide will open the 2014 season against West Virginia on Saturday in Atlanta, and Manchin plans to visit his friend before the game.
“He’s part of my family,” Manchin said. “I always root for him, except Saturday, when I hope WVU pulls the upset.”
Saban turned nostalgic this week, describing his childhood trips to Mountaineer Field as “the highlight of my year.” More than four decades later, Saban lobbied the SEC to invite West Virginia, but the conference took Missouri and Texas A&M instead.
“Because he loves his home state, he tried to do something to help WVU,” said Manchin.
After Texas regents reportedly made a run at Saban in the wake of Mack Brown’s resignation last December, Alabama made him the nation’s highest-paid coach at a public university with a contact worth nearly $7 million annually over the next eight years. Manchin thinks the 62-year-old Saban will ride out his coaching days in Tuscaloosa.
“I’d love to have him back here, but I think he’ll spend the rest of his career at Alabama,” Manchin said. “He has been treated better there than he’s been treated anywhere else, and he’d tell you that.”