College football coach Nick Saban is an Alabama treasure, and worth every dollar he’s paid
Winning four national championships with the Crimson Tide puts him on a par with the best the NFL has to offer
Nick Saban does not exist for your benefit. He is a monomaniacal football coach plying his trade during an era of excessive and endless hype.
He will do the TV interviews and contrived photo-ops because he knows he has to. But there is always a look of forlorn resignation on his face. He gives the general public what he has to, no more, no less. What Saban does do, though, is coach football better than anyone in America not named Bill Belichik. And while Belichik has scripted his legend in the corporate behemoth known as the NFL, Saban has chosen to forge his professional legacy in the equally corporate world of collegiate sports.
The head coach at the University of Alabama for the past nine years, in that time Saban has won four national championships. Before that he was at Louisiana State University where he also won a national championship giving him five in total.
It’s a remarkable number considering there are 128 schools competing in Division 1.
Belichik has won four NFL championships by being better than 31 other teams, while Saban has won five by besting 127 other schools.
Maybe Saban is actually the greatest football coach in America. He is most certainly in the conversation, particularly after his latest masterpiece this week in the National Championship game against Clemson.
Down 24-21 entering the fourth quarter, Alabama tied the game with an early field goal before preparing to kick off again. The game was a riveting affair and everything a national championship tilt should be before Saban took over. An onside kick totally shocked Clemson and two plays later Alabama scored with a 51-yard touchdown pass quickly followed by a 92-yard kick-off return. In the span of three minutes, Alabama scored 17 points. Clemson, undefeated and ranked number one in the country, were game but in the end fell 45-40.
Saban would be the first to tell you that players play and coaches coach. Even the most skilled tacticians need the right players to execute their schemes. But at this level the gap in talent is marginal at best, with Clemson’s athletes every bit as good as Alabama’s.
However, make no mistake, this was a coaching victory. Using the element of surprise and the unwavering confidence of a champion Alabama prevailed once again. Of course, Saban is loath to accept any of the credit and his self-deprecating nature is a large part of his success.
But the facts are irrefutable. Only one college football coach has enjoyed more success than Saban and that is legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant with six national titles. Bryant strode like a colossus over the state and the nation from 1958 to 1982.
It was a racially charged time when Alabama was at the forefront of segregation for all the wrong reasons. While southern rock heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd articulated the defiance and pride of both the state and the southern US in their classic 1974 song Sweet Home Alabama, Bryant was simply Alabama.
He later claimed that he had desperately tried to integrate Alabama’s football team for years only to have racist governor George Wallace threaten to cut funding for the university. After being routinely defeated by integrated teams from the north and California, the first two black players took the field for Alabama in 1971 and two years later a third of the team were black. Alabama and Bryant were back in the winning business and while the Bear is a cultural icon, Saban is a football coach. Both are very much men of their times.
With an annual salary in excess of US$7 million, Saban is not only the highest-paid public employee in Alabama he is reputedly the highest-paid public employee in the country. And well he should be. Ask the taxpayers of Alabama if they are getting their money’s worth with Saban and few would disagree.
No one does more to promote the state and uphold their one area of clear excellence. There is so much egregious waste of public funds that it would take forever to catalogue it.
In the context of that, Saban might even be a bargain with a number of NFL teams willing to pay him in excess of US$10 million despite his spotty record with the Miami Dolphins some 10 years ago. College football is religion in the south and a large part of that is because of the legacy of the Alabama Crimson Tide. They made their competition better.
Of course, none of this matters to Nick Saban. He will tell you that he is simply a football coach and he is right. He is a football coach, albeit one with no peer.