Nick Saban has won a handful of national championships, but what better way to move into a tie for first place on the all-time leaderboard with the one and only Paul “Bear” Bryant than by cooking up the most unique national championship coaching job of his career to date.’
For the first time with the national championship on the line, Saban was going up against a former assistant coach. As the previous 11 matchups between teacher and student have gone, Saban once again came out on top of a former understudy, Georgia’s Kirby Smart. But boy oh boy did Saban have to try a few new things in order to get it. For the first time, Alabama was flustered and overmatched in a championship game. Even the last two years against Clemson were back-and-forth types of games, but Georgia was playing like a true home team hungry to end a national title drought in front of their home fans. Alabama’s offense was non-existent for the first 30 minutes, leading Saban to make a drastic call to change his quarterbacks at halftime and roll with a true freshman in Tua Tagovailoa.
Jalen Hurts had been Alabama’s starting quarterback for the past two seasons, but a rough first half performance led to Alabama digging a 13-0 hole. Saban needed a spark, so for the first time in a championship game, he made the switch in hopes of sparking something on offense. After a rough first drive, Tagovailoa came through in wild fashion. Tagovailoa connected on 14-of-24 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning 41-yard pass to Devonta Smith just one play after being taken down for a loss of 16 yards on a sack. Amazingly, Saban’s freshman quarterback looked like a freshman making a freshman mistake only to shrug it off and connect on a pass that will go down in Alabama’s storied history as one of the best in program history.
Saban is now tied with Bryant for the most national championships in the AP poll era with six apiece. Saban had already cemented his spot among college football’s hierarchy of coaches before Monday night, but for anyone who was still holding back on suggesting Saban belongs in the conversation for best coaches of all time, there is no more room to allow that conversation to be avoided. Saban is absolutely one of the best coaches of all time with six national titles to his name at two different schools (one at LSU, five at Alabama). But for anyone who does want to hold off on the Saban conversation, what more could you possibly need? Do you need Alabama to win another national title?
If you do, then watch out. Alabama was fueled Monday night by a freshman quarterback (Tagovailoa), a freshman running back (Najee Harris) and a freshman wide receiver (Smith). Alabama’s not going away anytime soon, because Saban has established a factory of college football talent in Tuscaloosa that is built to compete, have players step into big roles at any moment, and win.
Saban has won national titles with crippling defense. He has won a national title with an offense coming alive in a shootout. Now, Saban has won with freshmen leading the way. And ogh yeah, he also did it without winning a division title.
There will come a day when Saban decides enough is enough and he settles into retirement with time away from a sideline, but there does not appear to be an end in sight to the Saban dynasty in Tuscaloosa. Until Saban calls it a career, Alabama will continue to cement Saban’s legacy as the greatest coach of all time.