Opinion: The Mythology of Saban
Saban has flaws like every other coach
By Carter BryantPosted 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.
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.