By: Dustin Smith (@Xdustinx1)
If you grew up in the era where Bear Bryant dominated college football, you may not agree with the following statement, but here it goes: Nick Saban is the greatest College Football coach of all time- and it really isn’t close. Obviously, one can look at Saban’s 7 (yes, SEVEN) National Championships (4 BCS and 3 College Football Playoffs) and say, “well, duh?” But Saban’s dominance and reign extend beyond the titles.
Yes, that’s the main reason everyone plays and coaches the sport. But to fully understand Saban’s impact, one must look further at the numbers and impact he has had on the game since his first head coaching job in 1990 at Toledo.
There are currently 6 active FBS Head Coaches that have won a National Title: Saban, Dabo Swinney, Ed Orgeron, Jimbo Fisher, Mack Brown, and Les Miles (All except Brown with some sort of tie to the SEC.) Saban has won 7 (6 with Alabama, 1 with LSU), Sweeney has 2, and the rest all with 1 apiece.
Simple math tells us that Saban has more Titles than all other active FBS Head Coaches COMBINED. But again, let’s look past the obvious numbers to explain why Saban’s run is one that most likely will never be matched at the FBS level.
As mentioned previously, Saban’s first coaching gig was at Toledo in 1990. The Rockets had a great season, going 9-2 and being named Co-Champs of the MAC. Saban spent the next few years as an assistant in the NFL with the Browns and another GOAT- Bill Belichick (but that’s another article at a later date.)
Saban returned to the college ranks at Michigan State and had fair success, going 34-24 in 5 seasons. Saban then spent 5 years at LSU, winning a BCS National Championship in 2003 and going 48-16 overall. This success landed him a gig as the Head Coach of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, but we all know that wasn’t the best fit. Let’s fast forward to 2007.
When Nick Saban took the coaching job at the University of Alabama in 2007, no one would really understand the impact that would have on the sport over the next 14+ years. 2007 was a mediocre season, with the Crimson Tide finishing 7-6 with a bowl win over Colorado (later record would be adjusted to 2-6 because of NCAA sanctions). 2008 was the true beginning of the dominance of Saban and the Crimson Tide.
Since Saban’s arrival, Alabama has won 6 National Titles (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017, and 2020.) Since 2009, Alabama has lost 15 games and competed for 15 Championships (8 National and 7 SEC). Saban has an overall winning percentage of 88.1% at Alabama (91% since 2009.)
The figure that was set for comparison for this piece was another legendary coach at Alabama, Bear Bryant. Bryant was a dominant figure in his own right, winning 6 National Titles of his own. The only difference is that it took Bryant a quarter of a century at Alabama to win 6 Titles- it took Saban 12. With Saban and Alabama signing Saban’s highest-rated recruiting class ever in 2020, it doesn’t look like Saban is slowing down any time soon.
As is true every year, Alabama will have to replace assistant coaches (Bill O’Brien has taken over for Steve Sarkisian as Offensive Coordinator) and players to the NFL Draft. But if anyone is set up to succeed at that model each and every year, it is Nick Saban and the people of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
The arguments against Saban are that he is a “great recruiter” and not a great coach. But I would beg to differ. Recruiting is just as big of a part of the “coaching” scheme at the college level as in-game and staff decisions. Saban’s ability to adapt each and every year, especially with the staff turnover he has endured, is evidence of Saban’s ability to “go with the flow” and produce the desired results each and every year.
We often don’t truly appreciate the greatness of sports figures until many years later- let’s not make this mistake with Saban. He is the greatest to ever wear the headset on the sidelines of the College Football world, and it isn’t really close.