Has Saban already out-Beared Bryant?

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Hold your houndstooth hats if you disagree.

The Nick Saban-Bear Bryant debate will wage on until Saban notches yet another national championship in the near future, and then maybe you will finally agree – Saban is the best coach ever at Alabama.

Amid the historic run and the dynasty currently established at Bama, Saban is not only the best coach, maybe ever, in college football, but he’s destroying rival programs, forcing teams to fire their head coaches and breaking coaches’ wills and desires, not only within the SEC, but all over college football.

But let’s set the tone: Saban has already out-Beared the Bear himself.

True, Saban will never be able to match the Bear’s win total of 323 (Saban has 154), but the six national championships are well within arm’s reach. And it’s tough to compare such legendary coaches because it’s truly apples and oranges. Bear Bryant had longevity at Alabama for 25 years, while Saban has only been at Alabama six years.

I’m not ignoring or dismissing history, knowing there is a very different world and a different college football culture between the two coaches’ eras.

But Saban can beat your best team. And once he beats your team, he could then take your team and beat his team with you coaching it. That’s how good he is. And he’s one of the few who can do that.

In an era where so much parity lives in college football, and where the SEC is at its apex, Saban is destroying teams and shattering records. No longer do top prospects have to travel across country to get media exposure. They are staying home because of continued emergence of media markets at local State U. That’s called parity; the antithesis of a monopoly on blue-chip prospects. The SEC has won eight of the 14 BCS National Championships, and the conference is much tougher and more dominant now than when Bryant coached. And Saban is doing it while being limited to 85 scholarships and with more player and coaching turnover all confined within the golden age of the SEC. Bryant never had to factor in any of the three.

With his third championship in four years, Saban joined former Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne and former Notre Dame head coach Frank Leahy as the only three coaches to ever accomplish the feat. Saban’s teams have played in the BCS Championship game five of the last eight seasons that he’s actually coached in college football. Think about that. That’s over half of the time; it’s remarkable. Ironically the only team not to make to the championship in the last four years in 2010 has the most players of any of the four currently on NFL rosters. It’s called player development, and nobody does it better than Nick Saban.

While the Alabama program is achieving greatness, their rivals are crumbling. Need evidence? Just look at Auburn and Tennessee – Bama’s two biggest rivals in the SEC. Both programs are in shambles, and both fired their coach and sought out new leadership, with AU actually hiring the one offensive coordinator who was able to put points on Saban’s defense. Coincidence? Nah.

It’s not surprising, either, that Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly interviewed for the Philadelphia Eagles’ job. Kelly only saw a glimpse of what every SEC West team and Tennessee experiences every single season. Kelly would all but join a long list of Saban defects.

Saban destroyed Urban Meyer’s will to compete in the SEC in quite remarkable fashion. Meyer is a top three coach in college football right now and certainly over his stay at Florida. He retired the first time after Saban and Bama dominated the Gators 32-13 in the 2009 SEC Championship game. Meyer, of course, retired a year later due to health problems only to accept a job nowhere near SEC country, where he can ultimately run a monopoly in the Big Ten. Coincidence? Nah. I wonder how Meyer felt after watching Bama’s display of dominance from the sideline the other night? I’m sure he recognizes the chasm between his undefeated Ohio State team and Bama’s one-loss destroyer.

Much like Meyer, Saban destroyed Gene Chizik’s career, too. Chizik’s only win against Saban was with Super Cam, and I would argue the Auburn expediting Chizik’s firing had more to do with Saban and Alabama than it had to do with Auburn and Chizik. Bama outscored Auburn 91-14 in the last two years.

With no clear end in sight for Saban and Bama’s dominance over college football, coaches around the country and certainly withinin the SEC are dissecting their rosters to figure out what they have to do to beat Alabama and figuring out what exactly they have to do as a coach to be like Saban.

Success is fleeting, and just getting to the top and tasting success is not nearly as hard as the impossible task of staying there. Just ask Chizik or Meyer.

During Nick Saban’s 48-hour success window he allowed himself to ‘enjoy’ the national championship, I would bet he watched film of Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M’s offense. Because he knows there is one team that stands between him and another national championship in 2013. And that team just happens to come within his own division once again.

Photo Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

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  • Great article.

    I really think Urban Meyer tried to do everything he could to keep up with Nick Saban and his body could not handle the ridiculous amount of stress and commitment it took on a daily basis.

    Saban is an absolute machine.