Put together your Mt. Rushmore of college football coaches and who would be in your top four? For years there would be some clear locks. Paul Bear Bryant would be in there. So would Woody Hayes. Knute Rockne would have his supporters and you could go with either Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno for the fourth and final spot, or perhaps even Bo Schembechler. Over the past 25-30 years though, perhaps no college football coach has been as good as Alabama head coach Nick Saban. If it was not already, it is time to make the case Saban is not only the best coach of the BCS and playoff era, and not just the past era, but perhaps of all time.
Saban won his fifth national championship as a head coach Monday night with Alabama’s 45-40 victory over previously undefeated Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. With five national titles to his name, Saban moves into sole possession of second place on college football’s all-time list for coaches and national titles. He trails only one man, another Alabama icon, Bryant. Bryant won six national titles as a head coach, but Saban is not interested in comparing himself to The Bear and he is far from concerned about how his legacy stands up next to Bryant’s.
Saban will hardly get credit for being an innovative coach in this day and age of football. Saban is much more comfortable sticking to basics as much as possible, which has proven to be beneficial during his run as Alabama’s head coach. Alabama had zero Heisman Trophy winners before Saban’s arrival, and now they have two. Those two also tend to go against the grain of the modern Heisman trend of awarding the top quarterbacks, as both of Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winners have been running backs (Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry). For Saban, success is built in the trenches. As a result, Alabama has put together some of the best offensive and defensive lines during his years at Alabama. Alabama is one of two schools to have multiple Rimington Trophy winners (best center) under Saban. This past season saw Alabama’s offensive line collectively be honored with the first Joe Moore Award, honoring the top offensive line in college football. Had the award existed before 2015, odds are Alabama would have picked one or two up under Saban as well. He has had 10 offensive linemen drafted since 2009 after all.
Although Saban may not be given credit for being an innovative coach, he sure as heck has proven to b a solid adaptive coach. When Auburn’s Cam Newton came out on top of Alabama in 2010 and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel ripped through Alabama in 2012, it appeared a crack in Saban’s Alabama empire had been exposed. Mobile quarterbacks and up-tempo offense suddenly became Saban’s kryptonite, as the offensive trends in the game had finally found a weak spot in Saban’s dominant physical approach to the game. The wind had supposedly been taken out of the Alabama program. Perhaps Alabama was proving to be vulnerable against certain types of players. Saban stuck to his blueprint and built the program his way. Eventually, this proved Alabama may take a hit along the way, but it would still be built to win big in the end. The years have now gone by and opposing teams have tried to crack Alabama as much as possible, but Saban’s success in building his dynasty has led to each and every one of Saban’s recruiting classes at Alabama leaving the program with at least one national championship ring.
That is a level of sustained success that is practically unheard of in this sport. Only Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is floating in the same waters as Saban right now. Ironically, a year removed from Meyer staking a claim as the best coach in college football today by knocking out Saban en route to a national championship of his own, Saban strikes right back by learning from what occurred in year one of the playoff system. The 2015 season saw Alabama stick to what traditionally works while also taking some chances and experimenting at times with their own up-tempo offense. An early loss to Ole Miss once again opened the door for critics to tear down Saban’s empire, and once again Saban made those critics look foolish in the end.
In the national championship game, Saban pulled out a rare trick. Tied at 21-21 in the fourth quarter after just tying Clemson, Saban called for an onside kick. It caught Clemson completely off guard and the Crimson Tide executed it to perfection. It was a rare call from Saban, who typically sticks to the basics and is not known to gamble in such a way with so much riding on the outcome. It paid off though. Alabama scored shortly after recovering the well placed onside kick and took control of a wild fourth quarter from there. It even forced the usually stoic Saban to crack a little smile on the sidelines. When that happens, you know something is cooking.
Saban is a mastermind and a master strategist. His job may be considered easy with all of the talent Alabama brings in on an annual basis, but that is because Saban makes it look so easy.It’s not. It’s really not.
It’s not. It’s really not.