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July 27, 2013To view the entire Alabama athletic budget from 2007-12: Budget PDF
TUSCALOOSA | You get what you pay for.
Former University of Alabama athletic director Mal Moore believed in that theory. That's why he sat on a runway in South Florida in January 2007 with an open checkbook, willing to spend what it took to lure Nick Saban to Tuscaloosa.
He got what he paid for.
An examination of financial documents obtained by The Tuscaloosa News - starting in 2006, the year before Saban's arrival, and running through 2011, the most recent year available - revealed Moore's theory became reality.
For the 2006 football season, the University of Alabama football program wrote checks to the sum of $5,763,617 for then-head coach Mike Shula and his nine full-time assistant coaches. A year later, with Nick Saban at the helm, that total rose nearly 19 percent to $6.84 million.
By 2011, Saban and his staff nearly doubled the 2006 numbers, earning the whopping sum of $10,678,891 (Saban $5,775,394, assistant coaches $4,903,497).
But salaries aren't the only thing that has grown during the Saban Era.
In 2006, Alabama finished 6-7 with a loss to Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl. In 2011, Alabama won its second national title in three years under Saban with a victory over LSU in the BCS National Championship Game.
The question of whether Saban is worth that hefty price tag has long since been answered to the tune of three BCS national championships, a pair of Southeastern Conference titles, a lucrative Nike contract and the seemingly limitless advertising for UA the institution and its football program through national TV exposure.
"When Coach Bryant came back in 1958, he said if football doesn't make it nothing's going to make it," UA athletic director Bill Battle said. "Back then as athletic director and football coach he caused a lot of rules to change in how business was done. He made sure that football got back on track. Football in Alabama is a very important part of the soul and spirit of the university, and certainly of the financial side of the picture as it relates to athletics."
The degree to which Alabama's success under Saban has boosted the football budget, and that of the athletic department as a whole, is eye-opening.
The Crimson Tide football program cleared nearly $13 million more in 2011 ($44.5 million) than it did in 2006 ($31.8 million). While UA spent more than $37 million on football in 2011, it brought in more than $82 million.
Beyond the athletic scope, it can be argued the football team's rise has benefitted the university.
It's an inexact science attempting to link Saban's success to rising student enrollment. Upon taking the job in 2003, former UA President Robert Witt set the goal was to grow the university. Yet it would be foolish to think Saban's success giving the school nationwide exposure had nothing to with the expansion. Witt, whom Saban often praised, was wise enough to give Saban complete control and full institutional support. For that he got essentially free advertising for his university to a national audience every fall Saturday.
"What Witt, Mal Moore, Coach Saban and (gymnastics coach) Sarah Patterson - all the team that's been in place over the last 10 or 12 years - it's truly amazing the transformation that has taken place on this campus going back to 19,000 to 33.6 thousand, I think with the ability to go to 38 is the goal with the infrastructure in place to do that," Battle said.
Recruiting budget on the rise
Recruiting expenses skyrocketed during the six years from Mike Shula's last season to Nick Saban's 2011 team. The results took off as well.
Shula spent $258,846 on evaluating, visiting and recruiting athletes in 2006. That total more than tripled to a six-year high of $980,882 in 2010. The recruiting budget has grown almost every year under Saban.
Shula's 2006 recruiting class ranked 11th nationally and fifth in the Southeastern Conference. Saban's 2011 class finished No. 1 in the country, an almost annual result, with top-rated classes also coming in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2013.
The Crimson Tide's results of an increased recruiting budget are evident: three national championships over the last four years and associated revenues for those titles, and additional exposure that would be the envy of almost any athletic director in the nation.
Why have recruiting costs soared? Saban points to the evolving nature of recruiting.
"I found out we have an All-American freshman team for high school players. When I played, you didn't even play as a freshman," Saban said. "Now, to evaluate freshmen, sophomores, juniors, it takes a lot more man power, takes a lot more time and it takes a little more of a budget to get around to see everybody."
Before Saban's arrival, Alabama's in-state rival, Auburn, controlled Mobile, the state's most fertile recruiting area. Re-establishing Mobile as Alabama territory became job one, and Saban initially assigned it to assistant coach Lance Thompson. Thompson, and later Jeremy Pruitt, made hay down on the Gulf Coast, landing blue-chip athletes such as Julio Jones, Mark Barron, Trent Richardson, AJ McCarron and D.J. Fluker, among others. Of Alabama's vaunted 2008 signing class, eight of the 32 were from Mobile.
Alabama continues to target the state's best talent, but in-state players haven't represented more than half of a UA signing class since 2008. The staff heavily targets Georgia and Louisiana as part of its regional recruiting philosophy - focusing efforts on players within a five-hour driving radius - but the program's national appeal has reached into Utah, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Arkansas, Florida and Texas.
UA has an airplane to assist in recruiting efforts, which comes in handy when targeting national prospects. Longer distances mean more time and money. Saban described the recruiting process as becoming "more global."
"Because of the Internet, all the recruiting services, I think some of the players are easier to find," Saban said. "But you also have to do a lot of traveling to go see them. I think all those things probably increase budgets."
Saban and staff have earned a reputation as tireless recruiters.
"The football program under Coach Saban's leadership has its fingerprints on a lot of the successes that have gone on in the last several years, from emphasis on academics, emphasis on life skills, the emphasis on championship play," Alabama athletic director Bill Battle said. "It's amazing to me. He's a focused guy, as focused and intense as anybody I've ever seen at doing what he does, but he has time and makes time for any of our other coaches who have good athletes coming in as recruits. He'll spend time with them and convince them to come to Alabama because he believes in the brand and improving the brand, brand exposure and brand equity, and that the more success we have in all of our sports the better off we all are."
Unequaled support staff
Support staff salaries have risen sharply during Nick Saban's tenure as Alabama football coach.
Former coach Mike Shula's 2006 support staff earned $1 million less than Saban's 2011 support staff.
College football support staffs have been the target of much discussion recently, with detractors saying they must be limited. At the Big 12 media days this week, Texas coach Mack Brown fired a shot at Alabama.
"As president of the American Football Coaches Association this year, I've been very involved with Coach (Grant) Teaff and the American Football Coaches Association board, in looking at rules, potential rules changes, and size of staff is one that has been very discussed because Alabama has had so much success, and their staff has been bigger than any of the other staffs in college football," Brown said. "So there was a thought at the board level of the American Football Coaches Association that, for the first time, along with the NCAA, maybe there should be a cap or a number to make it more fair across the board."
In April, The Tuscaloosa News reported that Alabama employed 24 noncoaching personnel earning a total of $1.6 million as part of its support staff. The program employs seven football "analysts" with an average salary of about $40,000. Its director of player personnel, Kevin Steele, who served as the team's defensive coordinator in 2007 and associate head coach in 2008, earns $200,000 yearly.
Read about Nick Saban raised the entire athletic department: A rising Tide lifts all boats.
Bill Battle's business background prepares him for AD job: Battle relies on business background
Inside the numbers: UA budget notebook
Tommy Deas contributed to this report.
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.