You know about Nick Saban's perfect record vs. his assistants, but these 5 stats are absurd
Whether Jimbo Fisher beats Nick Saban’s, um, “rear end” or not, what cannot be taken away from the Alabama coach is the decade he spent beating his disciples like a drum.
In football, not golf.
Fisher’s jab was lofty when you consider that Saban is now 23-0 against his former assistants. That includes 4 wins against Fisher (3 at A&M, 1 at Florida State), all of which were by at least 3 scores. In the last 3 seasons alone, Saban is 11-0 against his former assistants. That’s nearly half of that unblemished record at Alabama against coaches who worked under him.
Every year, we write the article “which Saban disciple has the best chance of being the first to beat the master,” yet really, so few people have even sniffed that possibility. Some day, maybe it’ll happen.
But then you think about things like Saban’s perfect record vs. teams outside the top 15 dating to the famous Stephen Garcia game at South Carolina in 2010 (also his last loss to an SEC East team) and you realize, oh, this is probably more of a pipe dream than we make it out to be.
In honor of Fisher firing up the Saban vs. his assistants discussion, I thought it’d be fitting to break down some of the numbers involved with the 23-0 mark, which is probably even more insane than you realized.
1. Only 2 of the 23 games (8.7%) stayed within 13 points
OK, I can’t take credit for that. Shoutout to Finebaum for beating me to the punch.
23 Wins, O L’s…here’s the former Nick Saban assistants who came closest to beating their old boss: pic.twitter.com/IgPsSclG3t
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) May 6, 2021
I don’t need to rub salt in the wound for Georgia fans by saying that both of those 1-score games involved late Alabama comebacks in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And it’s probably unnecessary to mention that Alabama’s starting quarterback didn’t finish either game, either.
1A. Saban won those 23 games by an average of 25.3 points
Just total beatdowns, most of them have been. And here’s a stat within a stat for you. Just like how 21 of those 23 games were decided by 14 points or more, 21 of those 23 games were against Power 5 teams. It’s not like Saban was getting Oatmeal Creme Pies every week.
Can you guess the 2 non-Power 5 teams/coaches who were part of 23-0?
I can wait a minute. I’ve got all day.
The correct answer was Billy Napier (Louisiana) in 2018 and Jim McElwain (Colorado State) in 2013. Credit to McElwain for actually not skewing that average margin of defeat and only losing by 25 points. Remember, that’s average for Saban disciples. Alabama actually scored a touchdown with 73 seconds left to get to a 31-6 final.
McElwain had better luck in the SEC Championship in 2015 when his Gators stayed within 14 points of Alabama … even though the Crimson Tide finished with a 257-yard advantage and Florida went 36 minutes and 51 seconds in between its 2 touchdowns on the day.
McElwain is, however, part of the “we lost to Saban by less than 20” club. It consists of:
- Jim McElwain
- Kirby Smart (2)
- Jimbo Fisher (2)
- Lane Kiffin
Do some quick math and yep, basically 3/4 of the games Saban faced against his former assistants were decided by at least 20 points.
2. More than half of those games were vs. ranked teams
That’s 12 of 23. And 6 were against top-10 teams.
Again, this isn’t just fattening up on cupcakes. Saban’s 23-0 mark includes 5 SEC Championship/Playoff games, as well. That accounted for all of the top-10 teams with the exception of last year’s showdown against Georgia.
In the Playoff era (since 2014), Saban faced a ranked squad coached by one of his former assistants 10 times. Seven of those games were decided by at least 3 scores.
What does that tell us? Even when Saban’s former assistants get national praise for their teams, they’re usually run off the field against the Tide.
Shocking, I know.
3. In those 1,380 minutes of football (excluding OT) Alabama trailed for 160 minutes and 51 seconds … but wait! There’s more!
That’s actually more than I would’ve expected before crunching the numbers, but then you realize that just 11.7% of the time in which Saban’s team trailed in those games, it puts it into perspective.
Surprisingly, more than half of those games (12) had Alabama trailing at some point. Granted, that includes going up 3-0 on an opening drive field goal.
These are the individual games vs. Saban disciples in which Alabama trailed for a total of at least 10 minutes:
- 2011 vs. Florida (Will Muschamp): 13:49
- 2017 National Championship vs. Georgia (Smart): 40:25
- 2018 SEC Championship vs. Georgia (Smart): 35:24
- 2020 vs. Georgia (Smart): 23:06
- 2020 vs. Ole Miss (Kiffin): 13:32
Of course, only the Georgia games were instances in which Alabama trailed in the second half. Of those 23 games, only 3 times did Alabama trail in the second half. All of them were against Smart’s Georgia squad. Saban played 690 minutes of second-half football against his assistants, and Smart accounted for the entire 61 minutes and 52 seconds of Alabama’s time trailing.
Here’s something wild. Of the non-Smart former Saban assistants, Alabama only trailed for … wait. That’s too absurd of a stat for it not to have its own spot.
4. In terms of Alabama’s time spent trailing in those games (160 minutes and 51 seconds), Kirby Smart accounted for …
A whopping 98 minutes and 55 seconds. That’s 61.4%.
Keep in mind that Smart only accounted for 3 of the 23 games for Saban disciples (13%). In other words, nobody comes even close in terms of consistently staying on the field with Saban the way that Smart has. You knew this.
Here’s the leaderboard for time spent leading against one of Saban’s Alabama squads:
- Kirby Smart, 98 minutes and 55 seconds (3 games)
- Will Muschamp, 19 minutes and 1 second (3 games)
- Lane Kiffin, 13 minutes and 32 seconds (1 game)
- Jim McElwain, 12 minutes and 20 seconds (3 games)
- Derek Dooley, 10 minutes and 34 seconds (3 games)
- Jimbo Fisher, 6 minutes and 29 seconds (4 games)
- 0 minutes and 0 seconds — Jeremy Pruitt (3 games), Mark Dantonio (2 games), Billy Napier (1 game)
Smart has led more against Saban’s Alabama teams by 5 times as much as the next closest person on that list, which is Muschamp. And again, Muschamp’s 19 minutes and 1 second all came in the first half. Kiffin, by virtue of leading for 13 minutes and 32 seconds in the first half this past year, is already at No. 3 on the 9-man leaderboard.
Go figure that Fisher, who averaged 1 minute and 37 seconds led in 4 meetings vs. Saban, is the one who had the viral jab. It’s Fisher who has had more chances to beat Saban compared to any disciple, yet you could argue that with the exception of Pruitt, Fisher has had the toughest go.
In fact, Fisher’s A&M squad could return the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Alabama on Oct. 9 and lead for the entire game, and he’d still be more than 30 minutes away from tying Smart.
5. Since the start of 2018, Saban’s teams averaged 47.9 points per game vs. his assistants
And they only were held under 40 in 2 of those 11 games. Staying on the field with Alabama isn’t what it was when Saban’s 23-0 run started back in 2010. That’s been well-documented.
It’s interesting because Alabama’s average margin of victory in those 11 games is 24 points, which is a slight tick less than the aforementioned 25.3 point average margin of victory for the entire 23-0 streak. In 8 of those 11 games since the start of 2018, those teams hit 21 points against Alabama. Once upon a time, that was a rare feat.
That always brings up the interesting question of who was the only Alabama opponent to hit 21 points in a game in 2011? Georgia Southern. Naturally.
In the last 3 seasons, the only Saban disciples who didn’t hit 21 points against Alabama were Pruitt (twice) and Napier, who was in Year 1 at Louisiana. The game has changed.
The problem? Nobody has changed better with it than Saban.