Of course, Finebaum was involved with Nick Saban’s ESPN flirtation: ‘Never heard more cursing’ about his team

It was revealed, earlier this week, that Nick Saban met with ESPN officials in 2013 – the year of the Kick 6 – about the idea of ​​leaving coaching to enter broadcasting.

The anecdote appears in the soon-to-be-published book, “The Leadership Secrets of Nick Saban: How Alabama’s Coach Became the Greatest Ever.”

The story – while sensational that the hottest coach in America would leave one of the more storied programs in history to join the broadcast booth – has had little or no impact on the Crimson Tide or ESPN.

However, it is the buzzy – or gossipy – type story that only adds fuel to the fire that is the almighty SEC. Yes, it just means more.

Like so many stories of its kind – you know, the ones off the field that attract us as much as the ones between the lines – Paul Finebaum is very much a part of the story.

The SEC Network analyst joined me on “The Opening Kickoff” on WNSP-FM 105.5 on Friday and – reluctantly, I might add – filled in some blanks about how the events went down.

It was May of 2013. Alabama was just coming off its national championship with Notre Dame.

Jimmy Sexton, Saban’s agent, wanted his client to see what else was out there beyond coaching. A meeting was set up with Nick Khan, now the president of WWE, who – at the time – was the most powerful sports broadcasting agent in the country. He was also Paul Finebaum’s agent.

“I was part of that on all sides,” Finebaum said Friday. “I picked up Nick Khan at the (Birmingham) airport with my colleague Pat Smith, and we drove Khan to Tuscaloosa to meet with Saban.”

It was during that drive where Khan peppered Finebaum with questions about Saban, trying to get to know more about the man who had won three of the past four national championships.

Finebaum delivered Khan, who flew in from Beverly Hills, to the Alabama football complex. That’s where Khan met Sexton, who then drove to Saban’s house for dinner.

There they were on May 8, 2013. The most powerful coach, most powerful coach’s agent and the most powerful sports broadcasting agent meeting at Saban’s house.

The encounter was nothing more than exploratory. “The preliminary meeting was putting the hook in the water,” Finebaum said.

Finebaum said he believed ESPN officials thought there was a “sliver of hope” leading up to the second meeting on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2014, in Pasadena. Saban had flown to California to be a part of ESPN’s coverage of the national championship game between Florida State and Auburn 48 hours later, but he was also there to take a second meeting with Khan.

It was the events leading up to the meeting, however, Finebaum pointed out that left the Alabama coach “rattled.”

The talk-show host revealed Friday that he had a “25 or 30-minute” conversation with Saban the day Florida State’s national championship win over Auburn.

“I’ve never seen him more upset about his team,” Finebaum said. “In the moment in time, that night he might have said, ‘I’m leaving all of this behind. I’ve had enough.’”

What was driving Saban crazy, Finebaum said, was his frustration with his team’s entitlement.

“I have never heard more cursing and swearing from Nick Saban about his team,” he said. “He exploded in this conversation with me.”

However, as Finebaum pointed out, Saban had just hired Lane Kiffin as his offensive coordinator and putting the evolution of his offense into motion. Plus, it appeared Saban just needed to wait, to get things off his chest.

The college football world was still reeling from the most unlikely play in the history of college football, the Kick 6. That wasn’t the worst of it, though, according to Finebaum. It was losing to Oklahoma and coach Bob Stoops in the Sugar Bowl, the analyst said, “That’s what sent him off the deep end.

“That’s why I think ESPN felt like maybe (he was interested),” he added.

Because the Sugar Bowl was on Thursday, Jan 2. Two days later, Saban was in Pasadena.

It was at that meeting that John Wildhack, then an ESPN executive, Sexton and Saban had lunch.

Finebaum confirms Saban’s interest was “College GameDay” but nothing came of it, which is just as well since Finebaum isn’t so sure the coach would have enjoyed it.

“There’s a lot of moving parts,” he said of GameDay. “It’s a lot of showbiz. In terms of content, that wouldn’t satisfy him.”

The booth makes more sense for Saban, Finebaum said. Studying film and being a part of the game would potentially scratch the coaching itch.

“With all due respect to my teammates at ESPN, I don’t think Nick Saban would want to sit there and listen to Kirk Herbstreit’s opinions or David Pollack’s opinions or Desmond Howard’s opinions.

“He’s interested in his opinion. It would drive him crazy to listen to people talking about something he understands more than they do.”

Check out the full interview at the 59-minute mark.

Mark Heim is a sports reporter for The Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Heim.