Nick Saban will always have his detractors. The sometimes gruff, sometimes demonstrative head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide is in line for college football royalty, winning national titles with ease. His teams are mentally and physically tough, and take on his personality as much as any program in the country.
While Saban is regarded as the greatest of this generation and potentially the “greatest of all time” there is one coach in particular who thinks Saban is pretty good, but not on the same level as those who have coached before him.
Enter Bobby Bowden. Dan Mathews of Gridironnow.com wrote a story this past week about Bowden and his perception of Saban’s success on the playing field.
“A sports writer asked me the other day, ‘Would you say that he has passed Bear Bryant?‘ ” Bowden said on the “Inside the Game” program on WDGM-AM in Tuscaloosa, Ala. “I said, ‘Not yet. Let it play out. He’s not through. Bryant’s through and has done all he can do. But Nick’s not through yet, so let the thing play.’
There will always be a comparison between Saban and Bryant. It’s undeniable and unavoidable. The two greatest coaches in Tuscaloosa have put the Crimson Tide program in rarified air. But the two are also from different eras and their legacies, although connected, are separate in success.
There is a fine line of demarcation when talking about the best of the best. Different generations, better players and stiffer competition. Would Saban be as successful in 1970s SEC? Would Urban Meyer win against Bo Schembechler on a consistent basis? Could Tom Osborne win with Nebraska teams of this decade?
If someone knows about winning, Bowden is as close to the greatest ever as they come. He has great admiration for Saban and the recent success of the Alabama program. Coincidentally, there was a time when Bowden was considered a successor to Bryant at Alabama, but stayed in Tallahassee and built FSU into a powerhouse program.
“I think most coaches would agree that it is easier to get to the top than it is to stay there,” Bowden said. “That’s the thing that Nick has done and the thing that Coach Bryant did – they moved to the top and stayed there. I found this out at Florida State: Once you win a national championship, your people expect you to do it every year.
“That’s how it went at Florida State. We were in the top five for 14 straight years, but we only won two national championships. And it got to when you start the season and you lose a ballgame, your fans say, ‘That’s OK; we can still win a national championship with one loss.’ But if you lose two, they go home, man.”
Saban continues to recruit as well as anyone and does a great job of convincing young men to come to school and wait their turn to showcase their talent. His ability to recruit nationally and not just regionally makes him one of the best ever. Whether that continues over a longer period of time remains to be seen. With the amount of resources by major college programs it is only a matter of time before Alabama could be knocked off the top of the football pedestal.
Saban is in his tenth season at Alabama, something he told AL.com was something many thought he would never see on campus. The longest time Saban spent on any one campus had been five years. Although he flirted with the NFL and there was speculation about him leaving to take other jobs (Texas), Saban remains the constant that keeps Alabama’s football program successful.