Yes, 44-16 happened, but let's chill on ranking Dabo Swinney ahead of Nick Saban
You want a fire offseason take?
Nick Saban is still a better coach than Dabo Swinney.
Wait a minute. That’s really a fire take? Well, these days it’s starting to feel like it. It’s an easy offseason narrative after 44-16 happened just a few short months ago, followed by Swinney’s record-setting contract going public just a couple short weeks ago … and Clemson just getting yet another 5-star recruit a couple short days ago.
Those crafting that argument will point to Clemson having beat Alabama in 2 of the past 3 years in the national title game. And by “those crafting that argument,” I mean people who put out rankings like this:
Yeah, about that.
While I’m not necessarily putting a ceiling on Swinney’s potential, I am saying any argument declaring him the best coach in America ahead of Saban is premature.
The obvious counterpoint — and one that any human being lacking some anti-Alabama agenda would make — is that Saban and Swinney have split the 4-year war so far. It’s a 4-year war because that’s when Swinney took the next step. Each team had their 1-possession win, and each team had their blowout win against each other.
Was Clemson’s national title performance the most impressive single-game effort we’ve ever seen against an Alabama team under Saban? In my opinion, yes. If that somehow becomes the new norm in this rivalry, then I’ll admit when Swinney has passed Saban in the current landscape of the sport. Historically speaking, Swinney of course has a long way to go there.
Four years ago, nobody would have predicted that Clemson would be the program Paul Finebaum would say “has passed up Alabama.” We would have said it was Ohio State with Urban Meyer. He got his Saban revenge in the 2014 Sugar Bowl and that became the narrative. Remember those stories declaring Meyer as the new best coach in college football?
“Move Over, Nick Saban — Urban Meyer is the Best Coach in College Football” Bleacher Report
“Urban Meyer surpasses Nick Saban as greatest coach in college football” Orlando Sentinel
“With 3rd title, Urban Meyer closes gap on Nick Saban” USA Today
My point is not to say that Swinney is going to have the same future as Meyer did after he bested Saban. But when Meyer took down Saban in 2014, it made it also made it a 2-2 split between the two dating back to Meyer’s days at Florida.
See what I’m getting at here?
By beating Alabama like that with a third-string quarterback, Meyer completed what was arguably the most impressive single-season coaching job we’ve seen in the 21st century. By beating Alabama in such dominant fashion, Swinney completed what was arguably the most impressive single season we’ve seen in the 21st century.
These are extraordinary single-season accomplishments. They’re being judged by peaks that, as often is the case, are nearly impossible to sustain.
And yeah, there’s a tendency to not give Saban the benefit of the doubt for the simple fact that many are bored with Alabama’s success. That’s why you see headlines like “the dynasty is dead” after a September loss to Ole Miss. To the average person, college football is more fun when Alabama isn’t the premier program and Saban isn’t the premier coach.
In reality, we’re watching 2 concurrent dynasties battling in a way that we’ve never seen in the modern era of college football. Saban still hasn’t been left out of a national championship game since he was “passed by Urban Meyer” while Swinney’s squad was ranked No. 1 entering the Playoff in both years it didn’t win the title during this 4-year stretch.
And what’s there suggesting this back and forth will stop before Saban retires (assuming that happens eventually)? Nothing really. Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa are back, and so are nearly all of their all-world receivers. Alabama just signed the No. 1 recruiting class for 2019 and Clemson is well on its way to signing the No. 1 recruiting class for 2020.
That’s the problem with an argument claiming that Swinney has “passed up Saban.” Sixteen months ago, Saban beat Swinney by 3 scores en route to another national title.
Too many people are treating this like Saban is a marathon runner who’s running out of gas in the home stretch and Swinney is the dude who caught the second wind at the perfect time.
Instead, we should be treating this like a heavyweight fight. In a previous round, Saban caught Swinney with an uppercut. In this most recent round, Swinney got Saban on the ropes and delivered body blow after body blow.
Who wins the fight? I don’t know. This thing doesn’t look like it’s been decided yet. For now, I’m breaking the 2-2 tie by giving the edge to the coach with 6 rings compared to 2. If Swinney can end the back and forth with another title or 2, I’ll be right there with people claiming that in the current landscape of the sport, it’s him and not Saban who deserves to be called “the best.”
But until then, let’s chill out with the fire offseason take that Saban isn’t the best in the sport.