Nick Saban just recently won his fourth national championship as a head coach, and the third in four years at Alabama. Which has led me to wonder if Nick Saban will start needing to be named as one of the greatest of all time? I’m not quite ready to call him one of the greatest college coaches but he is slowly making his case with each passing season.
It is funny to think Nick Saban had no dreams or intentions of joining the coaching ranks coming out of College at Kent State. His Coach at Kent State Don James convinced Saban to become a graduate assistant while he waited for his wife to finish her degree. Saban spent two seasons as a graduate assistant at Kent State and got promoted to a defensive assistant in 1975. This was just the beginning of Saban’s coaching career.
Nick Saban spent the better part of the next decade bouncing around jobs between Syracuse, West Virginia, Ohio State, Navy, and Michigan State in the college ranks as well as one stop in the NFL to be an assistant coach on the Houston Oilers. In 1990 Saban got his first opportunity to be a head coach when he accepted the Toledo Rockets job. In his first and only season as head coach he took the Rockets to a 9-2 record and the Rockets were co-champions of the Mid American Conference. Following the season Saban accepted the Defensive Coordinator job with the Cleveland Browns.
This one move has now labeled Saban under the Bill Belichick coaching tree; He stayed with the Browns from 1991-1994 and got another opportunity as a head coach when he took over the struggling Michigan State Spartans in 1995. Beginning with his first season in East Lansing, there was moderate improvement and mild success. It wasn’t until the 1999 season when he led the Spartans to a 9-2 record, which was the best season for the Spartans since 1965. Saban now had some interest from various jobs opening up, and he decided to head down to Baton Rouge to take the LSU head coaching job.
From the time he took over in 1999 it just seemed like it would be a matter of time before he helped get LSU over the top. That first flash of brilliance happened in 2001 when LSU won it’s first outright SEC championship since 1986. While the team took a slight step backwards in 2002, there was something special from the early going of 2003 as LSU went through the season with only one loss and won their 2nd SEC championship in three years and finishing the season at #2 in the BCS and getting a bid to play #1 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers took advantage of playing close to home winning their first national championship since 1958, and capturing Saban’s first title as a head coach.
2004 was a step backwards for the Tigers and after suffering a heartbreaking loss in the Capital One bowl, Nick Saban resigned to take a shot at the NFL and the Miami Dolphins head coaching job. This would be Saban’s third stint in the NFL, but his first opportunity as a head coach. It was short lived, after his first season and some surprising succsess, the team took a huge step backwards in his second season and Saban suffered his first losing season as a head coach. At this time the rumors started swirling around Saban and the newly vacant coaching position at Alabama.
Even though Saban denied the reports repeatedly, he finally met with owner of the Dolphins on January 3rd 2007 and notified the owner of his intentions to take the Alabama job. He was announced on January 4th as the 27th head coach of the Alabama Crimson tide. His first season in Birmingham was a rocky one finishing the season at 6-6. His second season is when things turned for the best, Saban helped the Crimson tide reach #1 in the polls during the regular season for the first time since 1980, and Nick Saban finally got his first undefeated season as a head coach, but the first loss would come to eventual national champion Florida Gators in the SEC championship game. Then Saban’s Crimson tide suffered an embarrassing loss to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. But all of that didn’t stop the excitement for the next season as expectations were high.
2009 is when things really started to take off for Saban at Alabama, he had his second consecutive undefeated system and Alabama’s first back to back undefeated regular seasons since 1973-1974. The Crimson tide beat Florida in an SEC title game rematch against Florida, which now put Saban in rare company with Paul “Bear” Bryant as one of only two coaches to win an SEC championship at two schools. Saban and the Crimson tide carried that momentum into the National Championship game against the Texas Longhorns where Saban was able to capture his 2nd National championship as a head coach.
Saban now had the distinction as being the only coach who won National Championships at two different schools. Don’t forget the fact he did it at Two SEC Schools. The 2010 season was another strong one for Saban and the Tide, but lost to eventual national champions Auburn in the Iron bowl. The past two seasons Saban was able to get his 3rd and 4th National championship, which now puts him in more rare company as the first coach since Tom Osborne to win three or more national titles and he is the first to do it in the BCS era.
Say what you want about Nick Saban, but he has proven to turn programs into winners. He didn’t win great everywhere, but since he took over Alabama, he has won three championships and will probably have a team that is favored in 2013. Now the question I have, is Nick Saban one of the best coaches of all time? Or is he just the best of recent history? I am figuring he has to be close to being one of the best of all time, but that is my opinion, and I guess you could say “proof is in the pudding”.