Magazine: Sports

Nick Saban pacing the Alabama sideline. Photo courtesy of Alabama Athletics

Opinion: The Mythology of Saban

Saban has flaws like every other coach

6 Comments

By Carter Bryant

Posted Dec 12, 2012

All hail the almighty Saban, for he can do no wrong! Thou shalt not speaketh against him or he shall cast you into the fiery pit of Hell – a.k.a. Gene Chizik’s coaching staff.

All jokes aside, Nick Saban is the best coach in college football. He revives football programs like ESPN revived Stephen A. Smith’s vocal chords. LSU football and life in Baton Rouge would not be what it is today if it weren’t for the man everyone still hates the most in Louisiana.

But even the almighty Saban has flaws that everyone tends to ignore out of fear.

Saban is not the best in-game coach in college football, and there was no better example than the SEC Championship clash against Georgia on Dec. 1.

Nobody will ever forget LSU safety Eric Reid’s miraculous interception against Alabama on Nov. 5 of last year. The Tide called a reverse wide receiver pass on the play, which seemed unnecessary after running back Trent Richardson had been bludgeoning LSU on the drive on basic running plays. Saban should have thrown his bag of tricks into the garbage last year, especially since it probably cost Richardson the Heisman.

And Saban pulled a repeat performance in the SEC Championship Game, continuing his tendency to over-coach with trick plays. He did call a fake punt in the SEC title game that worked, but it was taken back by a delay-of-game penalty.

His Royal Highness also uncharacteristically butchered clock management at the end of the first half against Georgia.

With three timeouts to spare and 35 seconds left, Saban hurried his offense to the line of scrimmage to run a play after a first down. This wasted 14 precious seconds. Alabama had to soon settle for a field goal because of the coaching error.

Still, Alabama took a 10-7 lead into halftime, and since Saban is a master motivator and adjustment savant, there is no way his team loses focus in a big game.

Right?

Not so fast my friend.

Alabama came out sluggish in the second half. The Bulldogs scored an easy touchdown, going 75 yards in nine plays. The Crimson Tide then allowed a blocked field goal to be returned for a touchdown.

Saban’s defense unraveled in the second half and the Crimson Tide barely lived to tell about it. The Alabama offense saved them for the second time of the season.

Rewind back to Nov. 5 when Alabama took a commanding 14-3 lead on LSU in Tiger Stadium after a late A.J. McCarron touchdown scramble to end the half. Then LSU scored 14 unanswered points, should have recovered an onside kick and continued to dominate the game until Alabama’s clutch final drive.

Alabama’s victories against LSU and Georgia were similar: lead at half with late-score momentum, blow the lead after the half, but then have McCarron’s magic win the game late in the fourth.

That’s elite coaching? Hold on to your houndstooth pajamas and Natty Lite everybody, the next few minutes will only get more ugly. 

Saban is a historically horrible third quarter coach in big games, and sometimes it bleeds over early in the fourth quarter. The biggest problem occurs in the secondary – the position group he coaches.

The 2010 BCS national championship victory against Texas, the embarrassing 2010 Iron Bowl “Camback” loss to Auburn and loss to LSU in Tiger Stadium are other examples of third quarter catastrophes.

In those three games, the Tide led by an average of 13 points at half. But in the third quarter, they were outscored by a combined score of 28-10 and continued to give up huge chunks of yardage until midway into the fourth quarter.

Saban’s adjustment issues go even further. Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel played three of the top five defenses statistically in the SEC this season in LSU, Florida and Alabama. Manziel shredded all three of these teams in the first half with his football wizardry. 

But LSU and Florida made the proper halftime adjustments on defense to shutdown Johnny Football. Alabama didn’t, thus being the only school of the three to lose to Texas A&M.

Yet college football fans and media don’t want to phrase it that way because the mystique surrounding Manziel’s “Heisman Moment” and Saban’s “vaunted defense” would diminish.

After Alabama’s SEC Championship triumph, few made reference to what could go down as Saban’s worst coaching performance. If it weren’t for Georgia head coach Mark Richt calling an idiotic fourth quarter defensive timeout and horribly mismanaging a two-minute drill, everybody could feel differently about Saban.

Instead, college football media and fans have bowed before Saban’s throne. They will never call Saban what they call LSU’s current head coach: Lucky. 

There is nothing wrong with luck. All coaches need it. But people love to slap the “lucky” tag negatively on Les Miles frequently, why not Saban? 

Didn’t Saban win a national title without his team winning its own conference division last year? Doesn’t Alabama have the softest SEC schedule in the West this year filled with bad SEC East opponents? Didn’t Alabama need Baylor and Stanford upsets plus a ridiculous Ohio State tattoo scandal to get into the National Championship Game?

Winning cures everything, and Saban wins more than anybody. He is one of the few living legends in sports.

It is also fine to think differently. People don’t like to question what they consider sacred. Saban is viewed as a deity. He has a damn statue for goodness sakes. But don’t buy into all the Sabanic rituals. Nobody in college football has had better fortune over the past two years.

Saban will probably win his third BCS title in four years when the Crimson Tide face Notre Dame. According to the experts in Vegas, there is a good chance the game won’t even be close in Miami. 

But just remember, the unblemished Fighting Irish aren’t the lucky ones to be in South Beach.

Comments

Newbie Sports Diva @ 12/13/2012 12:07 am

Carter Bryant's Sabanic heresy displays this writer's wit and wisdom at its best. He exposes a dirty little secret -- the coach we all love to hate has nonetheless been begrudgingly deified.Thanks to Carter, we are now liberated from the media hype that continues to tailor a royal wardrobe for an often naked emperor.

Michael Jordan @ 12/15/2012 12:53 am

Saban may control the media, and the majority of college football fans consider him a deity, but thank goodness Saban doesn't control the written and spoken word of Carter Bryant. You forgot to mention the fact that the zebras bow down and kiss his grass-stained Nike athletic shoes. The zebras believe the Saban hype too, and rarely rule against Saban. The only two games that the referees have not given Saban preferential treatment were the 2010 Camback Iron Bowl and the 2012 Aggie upset in Tuscaloosa. The pained, hysterical, incredulous look on Saban's face when the referees had the audacity to make the correct Crimson Tide offsides call versus A&M was priceless. Saban's maniacal gesticulations were not induced by any perceived erroneous referee call, but instead were the result that Saban could not believe that the referees made a call against Saban, irregardless of whether the penalty was correct or not. ESPN is a Saban-supplicant. When Saban is a guest... more
Saban may control the media, and the majority of college football fans consider him a deity, but thank goodness Saban doesn't control the written and spoken word of Carter Bryant. You forgot to mention the fact that the zebras bow down and kiss his grass-stained Nike athletic shoes. The zebras believe the Saban hype too, and rarely rule against Saban. The only two games that the referees have not given Saban preferential treatment were the 2010 Camback Iron Bowl and the 2012 Aggie upset in Tuscaloosa. The pained, hysterical, incredulous look on Saban's face when the referees had the audacity to make the correct Crimson Tide offsides call versus A&M was priceless. Saban's maniacal gesticulations were not induced by any perceived erroneous referee call, but instead were the result that Saban could not believe that the referees made a call against Saban, irregardless of whether the penalty was correct or not. ESPN is a Saban-supplicant. When Saban is a guest analyst, Curt Fowler spends the majority of segment lavishing praise on Saban and telling him how intelligent he is (GIVE ME A BREAK !!!!). Carter has displayed similar courage and editorial integrity by "calling it like it is," and noting that Saban is a very lucky man. He is not the Vince Lombardi of college football, but instead allows the "dominos to fall" that allow Bama to "back in" to that number 2 BGS position to contend for the national championship. What luck? The losses to LSU last year and the Aggies this year meant nothing as the result is still the same -- BGS Title game. Unfortunately, the lady-lucky Saban will probably win the title this year too. It's obvious the wrong team has the lucky clover on their helmits.................... less

Kkcat @ 01/02/2013 01:10 am

How does Saban get away with having a child with Candy Edwards and keeping it out of the press? Relatives of the child are positive he fathered this sweet little boy and when it gets mentioned to Saban he blanches white and walks off. His paternal status is no secret to many in Louisiana. While some dislike him for his disloyalty in taking the Alaba job after he swore he would never do it, much of the dislike is due to his disrespect of his marriage vows to his lovely wife who has loyally stood by his side and who is rumored to make sure he maintains a relationship with his illegitimate child. Wonder why she just bought high dollar commercial land here in Baton Rouge? We know she misses Baton Rouge, hates her current town and would give anything to be back here. Knowing Saban is about to desert Alabama and try to prove he can successfully coach an NFL team maybe his wife is preparing for a Saban free life. If so Many will wish her well. She deserves much better.

Not Les Miles @ 01/28/2013 11:02 pm

Ok, enough with the Thesaurus. Neither of the first two comments had any substance whatsoever. Simply using this article as an excuse to rant about Saban. The third comment was just plain weird. The unfortunate thing about this article is that like most it ignores the counterargument. What about the tremendous bad luck Bama has faced? Are you truly going to pretend Georgia wasn't the luckiest, by far, with that blatant no-call on a pass that very clearly was not tipped? Bama has experienced fortune in its favor, but also a lot of bad fortune against it. You stay objective, sir.

Emil Dashdamirov @ 04/02/2013 02:10 pm

He is not the Vince Lombardi of college football, but instead allows the "dominos to fall" that allow Bama to "back in" to that number 2 BGS position to contend for the national championship. )

James C Johnson @ 05/23/2013 02:47 pm

You all wish that y'all's that right y'all ALABAMA TALK had the wins the memories the recruits the teams The Coach that I love and every red elephant out there loves. ALABAMA FOOTBALL. Y'all's bands sing it and lie to you but when we say Its great to be from Alabama. We can hold our head up and know its true Its awesome in T Town. We win. 3 out of 4. Wow. That still amazes me. Rammer jammer and Roll Tide. Can you say 4 out of 5. I can. I know it's very possible more like it probably will happen. We own football and I'm loving every minute of it. Can I get a hell yeah. Thank you didn't think you would say it. By the way Roll Tide Roll.

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