We are all prisoners of the moment. Knee jerk reactions aren’t silly, It’s just human nature. A player, or team has an accomplishment, it’s easy to throw out the best ever comparisons.
Monday night after Alabama’s 45-40 win over Clemson, I walked out to the field inside University of Phoenix Stadium (partly to stay awake) to think if Nick Saban is the greatest coach in College Football history. I think he’s the best coach in the college game right now (Urban Meyer, David Shaw the other two) and I think it goes without saying that Alabama is the best program in the game (Ohio St is number two).
But, is Nick Saban, THE greatest coach in the college game. He joins one coach atop the mountain (more on the other coach later). Here’s what’s made Saban’s accomplishments at Alabama all-time impressive:
1.Being able to adapt his game plan, and program
Alabama isn’t anywhere near the program they were when Saban came to Tuscaloosa. The game plan was even more of a run heavy, conservative, sound defense that wouldn’t make many mistakes. It worked the first few years in a big way (2009 National Title).
What’s made Saban great is being able to meticulously find every little detail before kickoff, and allowing his assistants to do the same. Case in point, the game changing onside kick Monday night.
You can go all the way back to Saban’s first National Title run in 2009 and their win over Florida in the SEC Championship.
He can make adjustments, but he can also change as the college game changes. Would Saban have the success that he’s enjoying if he were staying true to his philosophy in 2008-09? Doubt it. He won games the last two season’s with Blake Sims and Jacob Coker, running a more up tempo attack.
2. Recruiting philosophy has changed
It’s one thing to stock pile elite recruiting classes year after year in College Football. That means nothing if a coaching staff:
A) Can’t evaluate elite talent at the prep level that fit your needs schematically on offense or defense.
B) Can’t develop the talent you have once it arrives on campus.
How many programs have had top 10 classes, and can’t get 7 wins, much less a chance to win a conference or National title?
Now granted, EVERY college program will “miss” on talent over the years once on campus. That’s just the reality of the game. Guys don’t pan out for one reason or another.
The biggest accomplishment for Saban is what he’s done to revamp his roster all while dealing with the “spread” or wide open scheme across the country and within the SEC. After the slow progression of a spread type scheme with Tim Tebow and Cam Newton at Florida and Auburn respectively to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, Nick Saban understood that he needed players on defense that were good enough to hold up in the trenches and in run support, all while being able to play in space.
The Dont’a Hightower’s, Rolando McClain’s, Trey Depriest’s of the world are a thing of the past. What Tide fans will see more of are body types like Rashaan Evans, Tim Williams, Reuben Foster, Shon-Dion Hamilton, Da’Shawn Hand, Mekhi Brown, or Adonis Thomas. Guys that can flat out run downhill, and able to make plays in open areas of the field when playing against spread attacks. Big fellas will always be needed (when dealing with more run heavy schemes), along with rangy Safety’s in the secondary (one of, if not the most most important position on defense), it’s just that Saban understands he needs players for EVERY scheme he can or will face.
Like the other dual threat quarterbacks that Alabama has faced, Deshaun Watson was magnificent Monday (478 yds, 4 passing TD’s). But even in the shootout, Some of those young Alabama defenders (Evans, Hand, Hamilton, Williams, Fitzpatrick) were called upon to help the veteran guys that needed a break going against such a tempo heavy scheme.
3. Being in the hunt every season an accomplishment in itself
Outside of Saban’s first season at Alabama (2007, a 6-6 record) he’s had the following records:
* National Championship season
Nick Saban has been in Tuscaloosa for nine seasons. Eight of those, Alabama has been in the hunt for a National Title, all while playing in the best conference in College Football. And if we all want to play the “if” game, “if” a handful of plays went Alabama’s way during these eight seasons, Saban could have 5-7 National Titles total in nine seasons.
To be able to adapt his coaching philosophy, adjust his personnel, and have personnel on the field to execute his coaching philosophy over the years, is what makes this run for Saban all time great.
Coaching record at Alabama:
50-12 in SEC Play
4 National Championships
It makes him at this moment ONE of the two greatest coaches in College Football history. The other:
(Source: cnn.com, Getty images)
Florida State had zero. ZERO history. In comes Bobby Bowden in 1976. He had a losing season in his first season. He never had another in 34 years in Tallahassee.
From 1987 to 2000, Florida State won at least 10 games, and loss a combined 19 (along with one tie).
FSU finished in the top 5 from 1992-2000 (14 straight seasons).
Bowden “only” has two National Titles, but the reason I put him alongside Saban, is because he created a program that had no history, into one of the best programs in America, and a brand in College Football. Saban. Bowden. The very best in my opinion. There’s a coach in Columbus, Ohio that could make me revisit this a few years from now.