Nick Saban: Part One of an LSU Fan's Q&A

Justin Goar@@tigertangentsSenior Writer IJuly 17, 2008

This is meant to be a semi-serious look at the LSU side of the LSU-Bama hot topic of choice, the Nick Saban issue.  Since I couldn’t find anyone of note to question about this, I thought I would interview the only person that would consent to an interview: me.

This is a Q&A by one Tiger fan on the subject of Nick Saban.  I ask the questions, I give the answers.  They don’t allow me any visitors in this padded room, so it’s just me.

Despite this, I’d like to think I represent the logical LSU fan.  Logical fans do exist in Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa.  Every fan base has their delusional pot-stirring jerks, LSU and Alabama both, so let’s put that on the table right now.

This column is meant to give fans outside of the LSU program a look into the LSU fans’ mindset, as well as provide answers to those who are misinformed.  Most of these questions address message board chatter.


True or False: Nick Saban left LSU for Alabama.


Why do so many LSU and Alabama fans have a problem with this one?

Nick Saban left LSU for the NFL.  He’d won the National Championship at the collegiate level and wanted to challenge himself at the “highest” level, the NFL.

He made a mistake by going to the pros and wanted to come back to coach collegiate athletes.  LSU did not have an open job at the moment.  Alabama did.

Alabama is traditionally one of the most successful programs in college football and threw barrels of money at him.

Life is all about learning from your mistakes.  Going to coach pro athletes was a big mistake for Saban.

People change jobs all the time.  You start somewhere expecting things to go in one direction, and it doesn’t happen that way.  You become unhappy in your job, and it's time for a change.  I’ve done it several times myself.

So I can’t understand why Alabama fans think Saban chose Alabama over LSU.

That doesn’t make sense.

And it doesn’t make sense for LSU fans to feel like Saban spurned them for Bama.

Neither is true.

If he had left us to go coach the Tide, a la Tubby leaving Oxford to coach at Auburn, then LSU fans would have every reason to hate him—but that’s not how it went down.

And Bama fans don’t need to gloat and say, “We stole your coach.”

They didn’t—they stole the Dolphins’ coach.


Please walk us through why LSU fans would hate Nick Saban.

First and foremost, there were LSU fans that hated Saban when he left LSU to go to the pros.  At least that makes sense.  You used to be with my team, now you’re not, screw you!  This stems from logic, and I can comprehend that.

That wasn’t really how I felt, but I can grasp the idea.  But then Saban left that pro team and joined a rival—and that sent some fans off the deep end.

In a way, I can understand that too.  As a general rule, LSU fans hate Alabama…and Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, and so on.  No matter who the coach is at these schools, there will be at least some level of animosity because he represents a rival school.

But if you are like me, you understood why Saban left LSU.  You didn’t agree with his decision or the way he left (especially his timing), but you understood that he wanted to challenge himself in the NFL.  You were glad to see his efforts to help new LSU coach Les Miles and his fondness for his days in Baton Rouge.

And deep down, you knew he was making a mistake.

Even though he left, I wished him well.

The only thing that soured this whole experience was who he chose as a dance partner when he came back to coach college kids.


If he ended up outside the SEC at a Pac-10 or Big Ten school, most Tiger fans would’ve wished him the best and gone about their lives in the SEC college football world.

But things were different.

The best universal comparison I can use is dating and relationships.

It would be like if you could pick the reason your girlfriend was going to break up with you.  Would you rather it be because she wants to take that awesome advertising job 3,000 miles away, or because she wants to boink your brother?

No one takes the brother option.

Saban left LSU for a different life, not to…ahem…”boink” a rival.

Continuing to use the dating example, we have this scenario now.

Your girlfriend that moved away two years ago to take a great job is back in town for good.  Sure, you broke up as amicably as could have been expected, but it still kind of hurts to see her back.

Since then you’ve found someone else.  Your new girlfriend is great and you are truly happy.  In fact, you’ve really forgotten about your ex because of the new girl.

But now the ex comes back unannounced and you’re not sure how to feel about it.  Oh, and she has decided to date your co-worker, your roommate, your best friend, or your brother.  Take your pick.

So now it’s a little awkward.  You see, you thought you broke up because you were in two different places.  You both wanted something different.  She wanted a different life.

But now she moves back to the old neighborhood (the SEC) and sets up shop like nothing’s happened?!  She learned that the grass really isn’t greener, and now she’s back to try to make your life difficult!?

So how do you deal with this?  You make her the bad guy.

And that’s what’s going on for a lot of LSU fans—they made Nick the bad guy.  It’s the easy thing to do when someone leaves you.

Of course, you could just do what I do after a breakup—suck on a fifth of Jack Daniels while listening to Air Supply and REO Speedwagon and writing poetry in my pajamas.

But I wouldn’t recommend it.


Do you personally hate Nick Saban?

I don’t really have the whole ex-girlfriend mindset when it comes to Saban, but it still applies to some LSU fans, unfortunately.

I still have adversarial feelings toward Saban.  He is the coach of Alabama, after all.  He is a competitor on the recruiting trail and a rival on the field.  He is the face of a program that LSU looks to top every year.

But I don’t hate Nick Saban.

I just don’t like him because he now wears Crimson.

My least favorite thing when hanging around a group of Tiger fans is that mob mentality.  One person expresses hatred for Saban, so everyone must follow suit in order to look like a good fan.

One thing’s for sure: Beating him and the University of Alabama is sweet—and losing to him will twist the knife in an old healing wound.


Why can’t you LSU fans just treat Saban like a distant memory?

There’s no need to try to erase what Saban did here.  Saban was a prominent figure in bringing LSU football to the forefront once again.  He should be remembered for his accomplishments here.

But he’s not here now.  As the saying goes, “If you’re not a Tiger, you’re Tiger Bait!”

Alabama is just some team that we play every year—nothing more.  It’s okay to hate Nick the week before the game, but anything more is becoming a little obsessive.

He’ll head back to Baton Rouge again this year.  It’ll be a big event, and LSU fans will hope to make the tally Miles 2, Saban 0.


True or False: Saban is the only reason for LSU’s recent success.


This is a broad topic, so I’ll try to narrow it down a bit.  LSU fans (and opposing fans as well) are quick to downplay Gerry DiNardo’s tenure at LSU.  But one thing that Gerry D did right was recruit.

He knew that Louisiana and the surrounding areas are talent rich.  The Mannings, Warrick Dunn, Kordell Stewart, Marshall Faulk, Jake Delhomme, Reggie Wayne—and the list goes on.

They are all great Louisiana athletes.  None went to LSU.

Louisiana is no stranger per capita to producing NFL talent.

1. Louisiana - One NFL player per 58,802 people

2. South Carolina - One NFL player per 83,584 people

3. Florida - One NFL player per 89,287 people

4. Georgia - One NFL player per 90,961 people

5. Texas - One NFL player per 118,476 people

Getting back on topic, DiNardo started keeping these guys in state.  For years, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, Florida State, Florida, Miami, etc. had recruiting pipelines into this state.  DiNardo showed that you could keep these guys in state.

That attracted Saban to Louisiana after DiNardo was fired.  The potential was there, and Saban recognized that.

With the help of Mark Emmert, Nick Saban sought to improve the LSU program from the inside out.  Workout and practice facilities got a major facelift.  The Academic Center for Athletes was built and is one of the premier centers in the nation focusing on the student-athlete.

All of this helped recruiting.

If DiNardo put a fence around the state, Saban built a wall and a moat.

Now here comes a truth that Bama fans will no doubt refute—anyone could have done this in Louisiana.

This place has been an untapped gold mine for a long time.

LSU is the flagship school in a talent-rich state with no major in-state rival in the premier conference for college football.  It took cooperation from the administration and the vision to do it, but Saban didn’t build this program from scratch.  He brought it up to par.

But give the man credit—he was the one to actually do it.

He unleashed the potential it had all along.

It’s the same thing he’s trying to do at Bama, although there it’s more of a resurrection.

That leads to my next question.


How important is fear of your rival’s success?

It’s huge.  In fact, I think it’s everything.

This is the crux of the conflict.

Bama has the coach that LSU once had.  No one knows what Saban is capable of like LSU fans do.  LSU fans had a great run in the 2000s, and some of the Tiger fans are fearing the rise/return of Alabama under Nick Saban.

But what’s not talked about is the fear by Bama fans that LSU is at the top, and that they aren’t going anywhere.

Does Saban's departure equal LSU’s downfall—or did he just boot up this monstrous football machine?

See, that’s what no one is talking about.

I think the “your team won with our coach’s players” argument is a little bogus.  Even if I want to entertain that thought, then Miles won more with Saban’s players than Saban did.

But I think all this back and forth comes from fear—fear that LSU is a program to be reckoned with no matter who’s at the helm.  Ohio State, Florida, Texas, USC…insert them wherever you’d like, but you can’t ignore LSU.

LSU has all the tools: a high profile and national recognition, recruiting riches, no in-state rivals, intimidating home venue, and National Championships won since the advent of the Internet.

If you’re a four or five-star prospect in Louisiana or Texas or the Gulf South (LSU has recently gotten some Florida talent too), then the Tigers are on your radar.

While the fear from LSU fans has to do with Saban’s success in T-town, Bama fans fear that Saban turned the switch on and left the room, and that LSU’s been running just fine without him and will continue to do so.

But that fear manifests itself in the statement: “Your team won with our coaches’ players.”

LSU’s not fading away anytime soon.  That’s just my opinion.

Time will tell.

But that leads to this…


True or False: In 2008, Alabama will win more than seven games, while LSU will lose more than two.


On the surface, this is the year for Alabama fans to deliver a big fat “told ya so” to LSU fans.  To most, this season will appear to show that these two teams are on opposite way elevators.

I won’t get into why I think LSU will fall off a bit in ’08.  That’s for another day.  But Bama should improve this year, and LSU will drop a few it probably shouldn’t.

But I’d put that Crimson party on hold were I a Tide fan.  Much of this season will have to do with LSU’s situation under center, not the coach.

’09 will bring more experience at QB, and the Tigers will still be in the thick of things in the conference race.

But that won’t matter this year.  Opposing fans will want to end the argument this year.

The head to head matchup will have a lot to do with bragging rights as well.  But either team would exchange a head to head loss for a shot in Atlanta.

No doubt the West will be wild again.

But I feel LSU fans must be warned, because no one should think the sky is falling.

The Tigers will drop a few this year, and the rest of the country will cite Miles as the reason.

Be prepared.


Thank you for your time today; it’s been great to pick your brain.

Some people are just easy to interview, I guess.


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