5 reasons America loves to hate Nick Saban. Losers. They're all losers.
The masses have rejoiced since Clemson pulled off the upset victory over Alabama and ended Nick Saban’s quest to match Bear Bryant’s championship total (for now).
But it’s not just everyone rooting for the underdog (though, there’s some of that), and it’s not just Alabama fatigue (though, there’s some of that, too).
No, a lot of people simply dislike Nick Saban. Seriously, a recent New Yorker profile likened Saban to “Satan’s dentist.”
The press even loves to take shots at him. Bill Simmons called him a coward for leaving the NFL. Colin Cowherd mentioned this week that he can’t be considered an all-time great coach until he’s done it at the NFL level.
Since the game concluded, countless fans took to Twitter to express their simultaneous approval of the result and disgust over Saban and the Crimson Tide.
#nationalchampionship Nothing better than watching Alabama lose. The look on short Nick Saban's face was priceless LMFAO. Go eat at Sonic.
— Steven Miller (@slmiller222) January 10, 2017
@TigerPanthrHeat Saban is one of those guys you just love to hate. Dabo, he's a guy, you want to cheer for to win.
— Kris L. (@ttiger2004) January 10, 2017
But why? Why does everyone hate Nick Saban? From my perspective — which is worth about what you paid for it — these are the reasons he’s the most hated man in college football:
1. We love success stories, but not stories where people get too successful
Dabo Swinney was a “crawl-on” at Alabama (his own term for his lowly walk-on status), took an assistant job at Clemson and was surprisingly tapped for the head job (after serving as interim) when Tommy Bowden resigned in 2008. Now he’s won a national championship. Dabo Swinney is what America is all about!
But Nick Saban is a dirtbag who must cheat in order to win too much. Never mind that Saban’s path up the ladder of coaching is really no different from most other successful coaches in football. Saban paid his dues, worked as an assistant for 15-plus years at a wide variety of stops including both college and pro teams. He was already on the wrong side of 50 when he won his first national championship at LSU. What’s the problem? Saban’s too successful now. He’s too dominant.
Win your first title. America loves you. Win a second. America still loves you, but they’re getting a little tired of you. When you’re seeking a third title, half the country is rooting against you. A fourth or a fifth title? Forget it. Everybody hates you. Welcome to Saban’s world.
2. Saban’s personality
We know he’s all business, and he’s a little ornery. But what’s the difference with Bill Belichick and Gregg Popovich?
Apparently it goes a bit deeper. As the New Yorker states:
Each day, as Brian O’Keefe reported in Fortune, in 2012, Saban sits at the exact same table at the exact same time and eats the exact same lunch: “a salad of iceberg lettuce and cherry tomatoes topped with turkey slices and fat-free honey Dijon dressing.” What kind of Southerner sees the menace in regular-fat honey-Dijon dressing? College football is understood to hinge on the personality of the head coach, who must charm older (mostly white) men into trusting him with their millions, younger (often black) men into trusting him with their bodies, and sideline reporters of all kinds into trusting him with their airtime. And yet success in this field has accrued to a man with the public image of Satan’s dentist.
Ok, so maybe it’d be more fun if the most dominant coach in the sport had more personality. But is he really that much different from Urban Meyer?
Admittedly, one of the reasons I love college football is that it provides a backdrop for colorful, even cartoon-like characters to emerge (remember John L. Smith?). It’s not a hyper-corporate machine like the NFL.
But, if everyone were eating grass, Les Miles wouldn’t be so special. And there’s only so much room for the good ol’ boy types like Dabo Swinney and Hugh Freeze. And not everyone can be a complete psychopath like Jim Harbaugh.
Perhaps we ought to cherish Saban for the maniacal robot that he is? Too much to ask?
3. He committed the cardinal sin of job mobility (more than once)
The thing sports fans hate the most is when a star player or coach leaves one place for another on his own accord. Whether it was LeBron James’ Decision or Nick Saban leaving LSU (or the Dolphins), fans just hate it. They especially hate it when it leads to success.
For a while, LeBron James was the uber villain in the NBA because he formed his super team in Miami and it led to two championships. Saban’s super team in Tuscaloosa is the college football equivalent.
Oh, Saban’s hated because he “lied” when he said he wouldn’t leave Miami and coach Alabama? Let’s remember for a moment that it’s completely unacceptable for a coach to speak honestly about his situation or his feelings at any time. Should Saban really tell you what he thought in most cases, the press would crucify him.
Do you really expect him to make it known during a football season, “Sure, I’m weighing my options currently. There’s certainly a chance I’m not here next year.” No coach in America does this. Time to get over it. Regardless, if you actually read how the Saban-to-Alabama thing really went down, there’s a good chance that he meant it at the time.
4. Everybody thinks they hate dynasties and love parity
While fans think they hate dynasties, they’re wrong. Dynasties define eras and provide a context for increased stakes. Clemson’s win over Alabama was even more meaningful because it was over Alabama. Had they beaten Washington? Yes, of course, they’d be celebrating the national championship, but a win over Alabama is much sweeter.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ win over the historic 73-win Golden State Warriors in last season’s NBA Finals is another example. Yes, the Cavs have King James, but the Warriors were up 3-1, were defending champions and just won more games in an NBA regular season than any team in history.
Besides, parity is overrated. Do you really want to see mid-tier teams getting into the playoff? No, we want marquee brands with elite talent squaring off in our championship games. March Madness can keep the Cinderellas.
5. He makes too much money
Yes, unfortunately, the financial envy of the public often comes out in discussions like this one. College football is even more uniquely situated for such discussions due to controversial, related topics such as player compensation and also the overall asymmetric nature of the sport. College football is uneven. Some conferences have more money than others. Some programs want to win football games more than others. Not everyone is equal. And fewer things drive the masses more crazy than something that might be perceived as inequality or unfair.
Unfortunately, in the real world, individuals (for the most part) are paid in relation to the value in which they bring to the table. And, oh, does Nick Saban bring value to the table. Yes, the championship hardware is one way to measure his value. The recruiting classes and broken records are others. But his value extends off the field as well. According to the University of Alabama:
Enrollment at The University of Alabama reached a record high of 37,665 for fall 2016. The entering freshman class, at 7,559 students, is the largest and best qualified in UA history. More than 40 percent of UA’s 7,559-member freshman class scored 30 or higher on the ACT, up from last year’s record 36 percent.
Just prior to the season kicking off, our team was on the ground in Tuscaloosa. We met a nice young student who worked as a bartender at a Tuscaloosa establishment. She was from California. When asked why she came all the way from California to go to school in Tuscaloosa, Ala., her response was simple: Football.