Heading into the latest College Football Playoff National Championship Game, there were very few predicting Clemson to walk off the field victorious against Alabama. The Crimson Tide were not only favored in the matchup but most assumed the quarterback advantage was tilted heavily in the Tide’s favor following Tua Tagovailoa’s historic season.
Those narratives shifted quickly after taking in Clemson’s dismantling of Alabama on the field that night in a 44-16 drumming. Looking back, it’s hard to believe how wrong most prognosticators were when it came to the game. In the aftermath of Alabama’s worst loss of the Nick Saban era, Paul Finebaum believes the seeds of that defeat were planted early in 2018 when the Crimson Tide coach was assembling his coaching staff.
During a recent appearance on Cellini & Dimino of 680 The Fan, the SEC Network host shared his opinion that Kirby Smart has become the first coach to get inside the head of Nick Saban.
“I think even though (Kirby Smart) has lost to Nick Saban twice, he is the only coach out there, I think, that has gotten inside Nick Saban’s head,” Finebaum said on the show.
How is it that anyone can say a coach that has yet to beat Alabama on the field has “gotten inside Nick Saban’s head” with a straight face? While that comment may sound strange, there’s some logic to what Finebaum is saying.
“I do think it’s Kirby Smart’s fault that Nick Saban didn’t win a national championship (last season, against Clemson). I say that for this reason — Kirby Smart beat Nick Saban in recruiting last year. That hasn’t happened since Saban arrived from Miami nearly 11 years ago. It drove Saban off the deep end,” Finebaum continued. “Now Saban’s class was top 5 that followed No. 1 and No. 1 but he reacted in such a way, he dumped some longtime coaches, he brought in recruiters — who by the way, couldn’t coach.
“Saban had to take away the defensive coordinator play calling responsibilities from his guy very early in the season. He was a great recruiter but he wasn’t a defensive coordinator so by the time they got to Clemson, they had a really good team but the coaching was subpar and that goes back to Kirby beating Saban (in recruiting).”
When you consider Clemson’s stability on Dabo Swinney’s coaching staff over the years and the adjustments made in-game by the Tigers staff against the Crimson Tide, and the lack thereof from the Alabama sideline in that contest, Finebaum could be on to something.
Alabama once again experienced an offseason featuring heavy turnover on Saban’s coaching staff as seven of his 10 full-time coaches will be in their first year on the staff. The hires represent a shift away from elite recruiters and back to Saban’s roots of coaches with SEC experience.
If Smart really did get into Saban’s head by beating him in recruiting, just imagine what will happen the day Georgia finally dethrones Alabama on the field.