A classic straw hat can never supplant the classic houndstooth hat in college football.
Both are legendary in their own right. In an old-school fashioned white and black plaid hat, Paul "Bear" Bryant stood as the king of college football. He stood in such a way that Nick Saban stands today, immediately after tossing his straw hat on the ground in an unrelenting tirade that will scorn his players on the practice field.
It works, doesn't it?
Undoubtedly, Saban is the best coach in college football today, and after he won his fourth national championship (third with Alabama), a debate has surfaced. The gigantic elephant in the room (pun intended) happens to be one of the most sensitive questions in the sport—has Saban surpassed the Bear's legacy not only at Alabama but in the college football ranks?
Here's your answer—no. No, on both accounts. What Saban has done in this era of college football is truly remarkable. Winning three championships in four years in the modern era makes Saban a legend in his own right.
He's already considered to be one of the greatest coaches of all time (as he should be), but his legacy in Alabama will never topple the legacy of the Bear's. Here's a few reasons why.
Are championships harder to win in this day and age? That's a great argument and another column for another day, but to keep it short and sweet—yes, they are.
With the addition of the conference championship game and strength of the SEC right now being taken in consideration, winning three championships in four years might be the most impressive accomplishment in college football history.
However, you can't ignore six national championships. Winning is the name of the game isn't it?
Bryant was awarded those six championships by major polls (AP and UPI), and if you want to get even more technical, you could argue that Bryant won 10 total national championships with votes received by other polls (National Football Foundation, College Football Researchers Association, etc.).
So obviously, Bryant has the edge when it comes to national championships, but perhaps, a bigger reason for Bryant's unattainable status in college football deals with his innovation.
Bryant didn't come up with all these fancy gadget plays you see nowadays or even these complex blitzes that Saban and his staff love to use, but he was an innovator when it came to coaching.
Actually, some may argue that Bryant was the first to run a modified version of the shovel pass, but mostly, Bryant is known for his hard-nosed coaching ability. Focusing on strong defense and sound special teams, Bryant created championship-winning teams.
Doesn't that style sound familiar?
Perhaps, the most memorable aspect of Bryant's coaching career are his unforgettable quotes that have become truly historic.
One of his greatest quotes defines the way he coached and the way his players played—“If a man is a quitter, I’d rather find out in practice than in a game. I ask for all a player has so I’ll know later what I can expect."
And while we're remembering Bryant, let's talk about the biggest reason Saban can never reach Bryant's legacy—the Alabama scholarship fund setup by Bryant.
Bryant's greatest gift to Alabama wasn't the national championships he won. Rather, it's the scholarship that changed the lives of many at the University of Alabama. Sure, the stadium, among other landmarks are named after him, but the scholarship is, perhaps, his greatest memorial.
Bryant funded a scholarship for the sons and daughters of all of the Alabama players who ever played for him when he was the head coach at Alabama in the early 1970s. The children of Bryant's former players have to apply, and they can receive up to $4,000 for tuition in a year.
Alabama athletic director Mal Moore told the Los Angeles Times' Jerry Crowe that more than 700 of those children have taken advantage of this opportunity and attended the university with the help of Bryant's scholarship.
So really, it's not he X's and O's or even the 323 victories that make Bryant the greatest of all time. It's the impact that he's had on his former players and the sport of college football.
Will Saban ever eclipse Bryant's legacy?
With a strict, bullheaded demeanor, Bryant used toughness to mold players into greatness. It's been implemented throughout the years, and perhaps, no one has mirrored this style greater than Saban.
When it comes to greatness in college football, both Saban and Bryant should be on college football's Mount Rushmore. Saban's done enough to be worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as Bryant. But he'll never replace "The Bear" as the greatest coach to ever grace college football.
Saban has come close, but Bryant's legacy in college football will never be trampled by any elephant in the room.