On the eve of his program playing for its third BCS Championship in the last four seasons, history will have to make room for Alabama head coach Nick Saban should the Crimson Tide emerge victorious Monday night.
In this age of parity in college football, adding a fourth national title in the 85-scholarship era would cement Saban’s place as the best big-game coach the sport has ever seen.
Is there any other college coach today who can match wits (or resumes) with Saban when championships are at stake?
Consider that Monday’s tilt against Notre Dame is Saban’s ninth opportunity to coach in a game with a conference or national title on the line (including his five-year stint at LSU from 2000-04). His record in such games is 7-1 (3-0 in BCS title games and 4-1 in SEC title games). The lone blemish came from a Florida team led by Tim Tebow that claimed the national title in 2008.
The three coaches he defeated in those national-title games (Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Texas’ Mack Brown and LSU’s Les Miles) all have BCS title game wins on their respective ledgers. Yet Saban’s clubs have outscored their opponents 79-35 in those victories.
Urban Meyer has two national titles under his belt and is the only coach to defeat Saban in such a setting. However, when the Tide met the Gators a year later in an SEC title game rematch, Saban’s club destroyed Meyer’s top-ranked and unbeaten Gators 32-13.
That beatdown sent Meyer into quasi-retirement and effectively forced a powerful Gators program to hit the reset button.
With his current place amongst the coaching fraternity and the fact that he rarely engages in discussions about historical context for his team or himself, consider this statement as more of an offering of perspective for what he’s been able to do in a relatively short period of time.
Alabama’s program has accomplished so much in five years that it makes some forget where it came from before Saban’s arrival.
Alabama had been to just one BCS bowl since its 1992 national championship, and it was not bowl eligible in five of the previous 15 seasons before Saban took over in 2007.
After a 7-6 debut season in Tuscaloosa, Alabama has gone 60-7 since 2008. That record includes a 13-5 mark against teams ranked in the Top 10 and a 4-1 record in bowl games.
A win over Brian Kelly’s top-ranked and unbeaten Notre Dame club would place him alongside legendary Irish coach Frank Leahy as the only coach to win four titles in an eight-year span (for Saban, that excludes the two seasons he spent with the Dolphins in the NFL), per Matt Fortuna of ESPN.
The only other coaches beside Leahy to win four championships are former USC coach John McKay and former Tide legend Bear Bryant.
Even though part of what makes Saban so great is his constant refusal to look backward, it would be foolish to ignore that the only coaches who can rival his accomplishments are the best in the history of sport.
It’s that club of iconic coaching luminaries that Saban can join if his team wins another national title Monday night.
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