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What do Boeing CEO James McNerney, Jr. and Nick Saban have in common?


Boeing CEO James McNerney, Jr. and University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban don’t make a combined $20 million a year because they’re dummies.

University of Alabama Chancellor Robert Witt called Saban “the best financial investment [Alabama] has ever made.” Forbes estimates the University of Alabama has garnered a $100 million return on the product Saban has produced on the field. “In fact, Saban has brought a 112% revenue increase to Alabama’s athletics department since he became head coach at the school,” Darren Heitner of Forbes wrote yesterday.

McNerney oversees the world’s largest aerospace company, worth over $60 billion. If every Boeing employee lived in the same city, it would be the fifth largest city in Alabama, with over 160,000 residents.

So outside of being über successful, what do these two men have in common?

They’re both playing Alabama right now — Saban, the University of Alabama; and McNerney, the state of Alabama.

Saban has been at the center of a torrent of rumors in recent weeks about the head coaching job at the Univ. of Texas. I’d argue that Alabama is the greatest football program in the history of college athletics, but even the Tide can’t compete with the ocean of money the Longhorns are floating on.

Now, Saban hasn’t stoked the Texas rumors, but he hasn’t definitively squashed them either. Saban’s agent Jimmy Sexton is the master of playing schools against each other. A school starts feeling like their beloved coach might leave and, next thing you know, the school opens their wallet at an unprecedented level to keep it from happening.

Well played, Coach!

Up in Seattle, Washington, McNerney is playing a similar game with the machinists union.

The union rejected a long-term labor deal proposed by Boeing several weeks ago, compelling McNerney to open up a nationwide competition among states trying to become home to a new Boeing plant that will bring 8,500 jobs with it.

This is a bit unusual. Big development projects are typically kept under wraps and out of the public eye until they’re signed and ready to go. Individuals who knew about Alabama’s Airbus deal were sworn to secrecy for months.

So why would Boeing get people so ginned up?

Because in reality, they’d probably like to stay in Washington. They just need to create the impression they’re leaving to get the union to agree to a deal that makes it possible.

And it looks like it’s working. The union already submitted a new proposal to Boeing yesterday.

Well played, Boeing!

Nick Saban might take the Texas job tomorrow (oh, sweet Lord, don’t let it happen!). But in reality, he’s probably going to get himself a well-deserved raise and finish his career at Alabama.

Similarly, Boeing might end up building their new plant in Huntsville (oh, sweet Lord, bring ’em on down!). But in reality, they’re probably going to get themselves a deal with the union that they can stomach and stay in Washington.

Alabama may be on different ends of these two scenarios, but in both cases we’re probably getting played.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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