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Alabama’s Secret Recruiting Advantage: Phil Savage

By on March 7th, 2018 in Football 10 Comments »

Nick Saban and Phil Savage have been friends for a long time (photo: by Vasha Hunt/

In the first few years of Nick Saban’s Alabama tenure it was commonplace to chalk up another National Signing Day victory to “Saban and the Tide are cheating. They have to be paying players.” When an Auburn fan makes a comment like that, it is typically laughed off as jealousy because it usually is.

In Saban’s early years at Alabama it was baffling to see what he and his coaching staff were doing on the recruiting trail. Their mastery of both recruiting and the manipulation of ESPN,, and, essentially, anything recruiting-related transformed them to the national powerhouse they are today. 

Of course, there have always been rumors about the different recruiting websites that drive the National Signing Day fervor and, perhaps Alabama’s early success, being linked to Nick Saban.

The rumors are buttressed by fact. and were both started by James Heckman, whose father in law is legendary coach Don James, winner of the 1990 National Championship with the Washington Huskies. Before he coached the Huskies, James coached at Kent State from 1971–1974 and hired Nick Saban for Saban’s first coaching gig. 

Maybe this was a reason that Alabama began its run of consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes. Once dominance was established, maintaining the status quo was easy. With the caliber of players signed by Alabama, it was no surprise that Alabama began winning championships and Saban began to be hailed as the best to ever coach the game. This, despite the fact that he is not regarded as one of the best on-field coaches in his own conference much less college football.

The point of this article however, is how Alabama is doing something that every dynasty before them has failed to do: keep the momentum going by bringing in quality depth year after year. Why would so many blue chip players go to the same school? There are only 11 players on the field at a time, and while depth is great, the four- and five-star guys are stacked three deep at nearly every position on the field for the Tide. In other major dynasties, rosters eventually deteriorated because the true quality players didn’t want to wait in line. 

How does Saban convince players who are likely never to start but still have NFL dreams to stay at Alabama? Enter Phil Savage. Savage sits along side Eli Gold as the game-day announcers for Alabama football. Gold is the class of college football announcers, and he knows what to say, when to say it, and when to shut up. As elite as Eli Gold is, Savage is on the other end of the spectrum. He is frequently lost, offers little in terms of quality, and frequently ruins great Eli moments with emotional outbursts. So why is a guy like Savage in the booth for America’s most storied football program? It’s what he does on his off time.

Savage is the executive director for Reese’s Senior Bowl, the most prestigious of the exposure bowls. In the Senior Bowl’s week of practice, players are paraded in front of scouts from every NFL team. Typically, early round NFL talents skip these, games which gives players who have something to prove the opportunity to convince scouts to take a hard look at them. These are guys like the plethora of high school blue chippers from Alabama who never started for the Tide or didn’t play enough to put convincing tape together. 

Since 2012, when Savage became the director, Alabama has blown away every other team in college football with Senior Bowl invitees. The Tide have had 26 invitees. Auburn and LSU come next with 17 apiece. NFL Player powerhouses like Ohio State (14), Florida (12), Clemson (14) and USC (7) round out the pack. That’s a significant disparity, but Alabama has a solid pedigree that’s hard to deny. It’s especially interesting when comparing the invitees to NFL draft picks. In the last ten years, Alabama is tied with LSU at 65. USC has 62, Ohio State 56, and Florida 55. In other words, there is no relationship between Reese’s Senior day invitees per team and how the NFL picks on draft days. So why the heavy bias towards Alabama?

Teams pitch all kinds of things to get recruits on campus. There are the things that matter like tradition and education. There are things like facilities. Then there are the darker reasons and while offering incentives is heavily scrutinized, the ability to tell a player, unequivocally, that even if he doesn’t start a single game for the Tide, he will still get his day in front of the NFL is a benefit that could slip between the cracks. Alabama has that with Phil Savage, executive director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl and game-day announcer for the Crimson Tide.


  1. Priester John says:

    I do NOT buy in to the “Nick Saban the best coach in CFB History” lunacy. Here are three reasons why UAT is so successful at football: 1) UAT has an unlimited football budget and spends more money than any other SEC member on recruiting, “football analysts” and gold plated over the top gaudy football facilities 2) no university admissions office “interference” (also Bama is one of only three SEC schools, along with Ole Miss and MS State that accepts Ds on high school and/or college transcripts and 3) most importantly Saban has no interference from the UAT administration and the reality is that Bama football is only peripherally affliated with UAT. In essence you can take the McDonald’s drive through guy and he could win 10 games at UAT (ie Mike Dubose won a SEC championship at UAT). How many games and/or championships would Saban win at GA Tech, Wake Forest, Kansas State, et al? He is a “great” coach because he is a coach at UAT.

  2. domaucan1 domaucan1 says:


  3. neonbets says:

    Like it or not, part of being a CFB coach at a high profile program involves mastering skills beyond Xs and Os. It’s the attention to these high-level details that make Saban the best in the business. Hell, he makes sure that the teams’ weight-lifting coach gets something close to $750k per year. Sounds absurd, until you consider that this coach spends significantly more time with the players (due to some other absurd NCAA regulations) than any other coach. And that by all accounts the players love this guy and would run through fire for him.

    Saban and Urban are just playing a different game than the rest of the coaches out there. They are gaming the absurd business of college football–ie $750k for a weight coach! Phil Freaking Savage, red-shirting gray shirts. Ridiculous. Yet that’s what it takes. Sniff out a loophole in the obscenely corrupt NCAA, and stick the money-grubbing Senior Bowl exec on your broadcast team. Then, get Too-Big-To-Fail so that the NCAA just looks the other way (a la KY, Duke, etc in the latest college basketball scandal).
    This stuff all seems like it was taken from the playbook of some Big Pharma lobby in DC stuffing cash in the pie hole of our congressional ‘pubic servants’. I guess it’s just life in the US of A circa 2018.

  4. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I can remember way back where Eli Gold came from! Way back, 45-50 years ago, NBC used to do Sunday afternoon NHL Hockey on TV, and I'd watch on winter afternoons when it was just too cold to be outside. I quickly became a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers, otherwise known as the "Broad Street Bullies." It was a very physical, and perhaps dirty team that got in a lot of fights.

    …..I was ecstatic in my teens, when Birmingham got a WHA hockey franchise, the BIrmingham Bulls. They weren't very good, but I was a huge fan nonetheless. I went to as many games as I could, which was just a few a year. When I couldn't go, I followed them on the radio. Eli Gold came down with the franchise from the frozen North, and was the voice of the Bulls. I enjoyed listening to him!

    …..Had some great times, thanks to the Bulls. Guys I've seen play live, in Birmingham include, Wayne Gretsky, Mark Napier, Gordie Howe (and his son at the same time!), and Rod Langeway. The WHA merged with the NHL, and Birmingham got left out. Hockey was gone, but Eli never left. He did local radio, NASCAR or whatever he could.

    …..I hated it when Eli joined the Bama broadcast. I knew they were getting a good one! I'm wanting to say that it was around the Bill Curry era, in the late 1980s when Eli Gold stepped in there. I'm wanting to say he's been at that job now, for 30 years or so.

    • gonecoastal says:

      At least he’s gotten over the “Yoda School of Broadcasting” by this time: “A leaping catch, that was….”

  5. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I actually learned how skate, thanks to those hockey teams. Still do it, occasionally!

  6. darjon says:

    Zack spot on.. about time some one bring this to attention, I guess it explain when a kid commits to uat he says it was a business decision.

  7. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    Uhm…………..26-14 !