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October 18, 2017    
January 15, 2016

Sweet 16

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In some ways Sweet 16 is such a silly way to refer to the Tideís latest national championship, but in many ways this was the sweetest of the four won under Coach Nick Saban. This one didnít come easy. Clemson was not beaten into submission. The Tigers fought to the end. Thatís what makes it so sweet.

Now that the game is over and all of the storylines have been written the inevitable comparisons between Saban and Paul ďBearĒ Bryant have begun anew. In the movie the Big Lebowski the narrator trying to describe Jeff Lebowski said: ďBut sometimes, there's a man. And Iím talkiní about the Dude here. Sometimes, thereís a man, well, heís the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.Ē I think that pretty much sums up the debate about Paul Bryant and Nick Saban.

† My point is that both coaches are products of their time. Comparing what theyíve accomplished and trying to determine, which is the best all time Alabama football coach simply isnít as easy as comparing wins and championships. Bryant played for Alabama in the 1930s and he coached the Tide from 1958 until 1982. Brother those were very different times. Bryant smoked and he coached during an era of segregation and no scholarship limits. He also integrated the Alabama football team, which helped make desegregation work across the board. Did he do that, desegregate, to win football games, well yes? But some coaches of his generation might have quit rather than change with the times. In the late 1960s when his teams hit low ebb he retooled his offense. In 1966 his team was undefeated by 1969 he had gone 6-5. That 1969 team finished eighth in the SEC. At that point, people were saying he was washed up.

† In 1970, he switched to the wishbone. By 1971 he won the SEC championship. The 1970 team was pummeled in Birmingham by USC and it was an African American running back, Sam Cunningham, who did the damage. Bryant had integrated in 1970, but after that he went all in. From 1971 to 1979 he won eight SEC championships and two national championships. Today many of the most beloved Alabama players are African Americans and that trend will not change.

† Saban, like Bryant, arrived at Alabama when the team was in a downward spiral. Gene Stallings won a national championship in 1992 and it was steady decline from there. From 1993 until 2008 Alabama would not win another SEC championship, though there were four western division crowns. There were also four losing seasons within that span, plus devastating NCAA probation which included a two year bowl ban and scholarship reductions. Between 1997 and 2006 Alabama had four head coaches; one who never coached a game and one who jumped ship for Texas A&M. When Saban took over in 2007 the Tide was on a four game losing streak. Saban went 7-6 his first year losing to Auburn, but winning the bowl game. Things changed in 2008, since then he has won at least ten games every year and except for 2010 has been in the mix for the national championship each year.

† Another thing that should be mentioned is that both Saban and Bryant ran clean programs that is, neither ran afoul of the NCAA. Saban did have the textbook thing, but that was early on and the Universityís compliance staff has been diligent in policing players. To my knowledge a Bryant team was never on probation.

† Saban still has to win another national championship to tie Bryant and a second to surpass him. It took Bryant 18 years to get his six and Saban has gotten four in seven years. Counting the one at LSU and subtracting the NFL thing he has gotten five in ten years or if you want to be picky five in twelve years.

† After the 2012 championship game ESPNís Kirk Herbstreit said that he felt we were just in the middle of this run, meaning ďSabanís Alabama dynasty.Ē The evidence indicates thatís true. It took Saban three years, but he won a fourth championship at Alabama. I donít know about you but I wouldnít bet against Saban winning two more titles.

† Which coach is the best? I for one will wait until Saban hangs it up to reflect on that. Maybe when he retires Saban himself might have some words on the subject. Between now and then the subject will be taboo, as far as heís concerned, itís just more clutter.

† The University of Alabama has been blessed with several golden ages of football. I grew up during the Bryant Era, which was certainly one of those fabled ages. There is no doubt that we are experiencing another now.

† Roll Tide

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