Will Nick Saban Become a Prisoner of Impossible Expectations?

Sean Frye@Sean_E_FryeFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2013

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 30:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts in the fourth quarter against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For the last three seasons now, the Alabama Crimson Tide were the preseason favorite to win the national title. Those are about as lofty expectations as there are. 

What's more impressive, though, is that he's won the national title in two of those years, with this season becoming the first time in three years Alabama won't win the title. 

Yet that's still not good enough for some fans in Tuscaloosa. Some of Saban's decisions in his only loss this season—the heartbreaking loss to Auburn—were brought to light. His call to go for it on fourth down late in the game and his decision to try a long field goal with that infamous one second left on the clock are often pointed to as the cause for 'Bama's defeat in the Iron Bowl. 

But every coach makes one or two mistakes throughout the course of the game. Had Adam Griffith nailed that 57-yard field goal, the decision would've been hailed as one of the best of Saban's laundry list of accomplishments. 

So the question remains: Is Saban so good, so successful at Alabama, that for the rest of his career he'll be trapped by unrealistic expectations? 

Some people are so upset that the Tide won't be competing for a national title that there's a website titled FireNickSaban.com with the subhead Only 109 yards to go. 

Joe Posnanski of NBC Sports wrote a blog critical of Saban's mistakes in the Iron Bowl. 

All in all, many in Alabama saw this year as a disappointment. Yes, to some, an 11-1 record, a No. 3 ranking and a berth in the Sugar Bowl is a disappointment since the Crimson Tide aren't in the BCS National Championship. 

Alabama's Preseason Ranking During Saban Era
YearPreseason AP Rank
AP Poll

Tim Gayle of The Montgomery Advertiser wrote that this season was a "meltdown" for Saban and even went on to say that he now joins Bear Bryant as a guy who is ultimately known for underachieving and losing the Iron Bowl. 

No matter what Paul “Bear” Bryant did the rest of his career, he was always remembered for the way his second-ranked Crimson Tide underachieved in 1972 and lost the Iron Bowl with a disastrous special teams meltdown.

Now, Saban can join the Bear with a special teams meltdown of his own that will be talked about until the end of time among Alabama and Auburn fans.

If Saban doesn't bring big-time success year in and year out, he could end up going the way of Mack Brown. At Texas, Brown was victim to high expectations. After appearing in the national championship in the 2009-10 season, he never won more than nine games in a season and even went 5-7 in the 2010-11 season. 

Nov 16, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban during the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Now Brown is out of a job after resigning. He was reportedly forced out, per B/R's Patrick Clarke

It's a lot to ask of a coach to deliver the nation's most sought-after trophy year in and year out. 

Yet Alabama believes he can do it. In order to keep the allure from Texas out of Saban's sight and mind, the Crimson Tide granted their head coach a multi-year extension that will reportedly pay Saban upwards of $7.5 million per year. 

But if Saban doesn't routinely keep Alabama among the elite 1 percent of college football, his legacy in Tuscaloosa could start turning sour.