NFL Draft: Bill Belichick and Nick Saban's media careers are off to authentic, fantastic start

DETROIT — They are a couple of 72-year-olds embarking on a second career. Two old coaches with fists full of championship rings, endless stories and a caustic charisma that they often hid behind grimaced sideline faces and gruff news conferences.

Bill Belichick and Nick Saban have both entered the working world of football broadcasting either by choice (Saban retired from Alabama) or force (Belichick couldn’t get much NFL interest after splitting with New England).

Both effectively began their new media careers at Thursday’s NFL Draft.

If Day 1 on the job is a sign of things to come, this is going to be good ... very, very good.

Belichick appeared on "The Pat McAfee Show" and is set to make regular appearances on the "Monday Night Football ManningCast." Saban took a spot on the ABC broadcast with his future ESPN "College GameDay" colleagues Rece Davis, Desmond Howard and Kirk Herbstreit.

They were insightful, of course. They were knowledgeable, of course. They sounded like guys who could still be coaching because, well, both were as recently as January.

The key was whether they could — or even would — convey it. Would criticism be limited out of deference to peers or old relationships?

Perhaps most important, would they allow their personalities to come through? They are similar in many ways, notably their Croatian heritage and blue-collar Appalachian roots. When Belichick ran the Cleveland Browns in the early 1990s, Saban was his defensive coordinator.

They remained friends and confidants as they conquered different levels of the game.

Both are natural-born storytellers who inspire great devotion from their players and staff. What you saw while they were annoyed with a sideline reporter wasn’t the real them.

And that came through.

When New England used the third overall pick on North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye, Belichick wasn’t afraid to pump Drake up — “this is a kid who can make all the throws” — but also pump the brakes in a conversational way.

“Drake compares himself a lot to [Buffalo quarterback] Josh Allen,” Belichick said. “He’s been doing that for quite awhile. We’ll see about that. I think there are some similarities in terms of size and athleticism [but] Josh Allen is a pretty special player now.”

The delivery was perfect.

Belichick backed it up though by running through game footage.

“He’s quick to come off the receiver,” Belchick said over one bit of Maye tape, focusing on a wideout he believed should have received the pass. “That’s as open as they are going to get in the NFL. I’m just telling you, they aren’t going to get open by like 8 yards in the NFL so you have to deliver it."

Later during another play: “He should just stay in the pocket. He doesn’t have any pressure. Just stay in the pocket and take his reads. He scrambles out early then throws the ball late and almost gets picked off.”

It was like that all night. Good and bad, perspective and proof. Some of it was surprising. He didn’t, for example, find too much fault in Atlanta spending the eighth overall pick on quarterback Michael Penix Jr., even though they just signed Kirk Cousins to a $100 million guaranteed deal.

And even though the rush of draft night wasn’t the ideal forum, he was at his best when just telling stories, such as when he was trying to trade for Randy Moss but the superstar receiver kept hanging up on him thinking it was a prank call.

“Randy come on, I’m trying,” Belichick said he pleaded.

Nick Saban was very good on NFL Draft coverage Thursday night, as was his longtime confidant and fellow coaching icon Bill Belichick. (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)
Nick Saban was very good on NFL Draft coverage Thursday night, as was his longtime confidant and fellow coaching icon Bill Belichick. (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)

Saban was similar. He was loose and joking, his guard perhaps down. When Philadelphia selected Toledo defensive back Quinyon Mitchell, he essentially, and perhaps unwittingly, confessed that Alabama tried to coerce Mitchell into the transfer portal, aka “tampering.”

When Cincinnati chose massive and massively talented Georgia offensive tackle Amarius Mims, Saban didn’t hold back.

“This guy’s got all the tools,” Saban said. “He’s got great size, he’s got great power. But it makes you wonder, how did the guy only start eight [games]?

“Like, in the SEC championship game, he played only the first 15 plays of the game and then he’s out,” Saban continued. “Takes himself out. I don’t know what he injured, what he hurt, whatever. But you’ve got to be a little bit more consistent in your performance if you’re going to be a great player and a starter in the National Football League.”

Harsh? Fair? Fantastic? Viewers are looking for honest, authentic opinions, especially from people as accomplished as Belichick and Saban.

So far we got it, with the promise of a lot more to come in the fall. So here’s hoping that even if there is some private pushback from agents or coaching peers, both men know their opinions are essentially above reproach.

They are Saban and Belichick. And that’s that.