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Bama Football’s Nick Saban Must Guard Against Complacency And The Odds That Kirby Smart Will Beat Him One Day

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Nick Saban’s former boss — perhaps the one he has had the most respect for — firmly believes in the law of averages.

Even against the overly used term, momentum.

If an opposing batter is 0-for-4, no, don’t just try to strike him out with fastballs down the middle. The batter’s not done. He’s due.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart is 0-for-4 against Saban entering the national championship game, including a 41-24 loss in the SEC Championship Game just last month. Kickoff between No. 1 Alabama (13-1) and No. 3 Georgia (13-1) is at 8 p.m. eastern time Monday on ESPN.

Saban already knows Smart’s due because he always prepares for the worst. What he has to do is convince his players of that, though.

Yes, Saban’s favorite boss was a baseball coach. That would be Skip Bertman, who retired from coaching after the 2001 season at LSU and was Saban’s athletic director from 2001 through 2004 at LSU.

Saban, like many of his day, has tended to have an automatic respect for elders, particularly coaching elders, and he held Bertman, now 83, in highest regard even before Saban got to LSU from Michigan State in 1999.

Bertman won his fifth national championship in 10 years in 2000 before Saban, then 49 and a former Kent State infielder, coached a game at LSU, and that made quite an opening impression on him.

Saban watched Bertman’s team come from 5-2 down in the eighth to win the 2000 national championship 6-5 over Stanford on television at Walden Lake in Michigan that June 17.

“I was pretty amazed by the fact that Skip obviously had a good team, had a lot of good players, but those guys played at a really high standard, and they played well together,” Saban said in an interview for an upcoming book about Bertman.

“You could see how well coached they were, how well managed everything was,” Saban said. “I mean, Skip was a phenomenal coach. I’d heard about his reputation before I went to LSU, but I remember how struck I was by watching it in action as they won the College World Series.”

The fact that Bertman just won his fifth national championship — third in five years and fifth in 10 years — was particularly impressive to Saban, who was four seasons away from his first of of seven national championships (one at LSU, six at Alabama) through 2021 with one more likely on the way.

“I always had tremendous respect for Skip that he could win all those championships and didn’t allow complacency to creep into the organization,” Saban said. “When you’re somebody who can get people to maintain their standard even when they’re having success, that’s a really significant accomplishment. And Skip did that consistently over time.”

And so has Saban. But he knows eventually the law of averages catches up. Eventually, Saban did lose to one of his former assistants who became a head coach. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, who was Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU from 2000-04 and one of nine Saban pupils to become a head coach and coach against Saban, was the first to beat the Master with a 41-38 win over the Tide on Oct. 9.

Saban was 24-0 against his former pupils before that game, so the odds were in his favor to most, but not to Bertman and Saban. They figure somebody was due. Saban did lose two national championship games to Clemson and coach Dabo Swinney after winning their first such meeting.

And Smart may indeed be due. He has come close. He led the first meeting in the 2016-17 national championship game 13-0 at halftime before losing 26-23 in overtime. He led the SEC title game 10-0 in the second quarter last month before losing 41-24. Smart also led in the 2018 SEC title game, 21-7 in the second and 28-14 in the third, before losing 35-28.

And in the regular season in 2020, Smart’s Bulldogs were up 14-7 and 24-17 in the first half before leading 24-20 at the break. They lost 41-27.

He has been close. Sooner or later, Georgia will play a full game against Alabama and win. Can Saban hold off the odds one more time?

“I think it’s important for our players to know what they need to do to be able to continue to have success in the next game, regardless of what happened in the last game,” Saban said Monday.

The odds are Georgia will win by three points. That is the point spread by FanDuel. That should help Saban motivate his team. The last three times Saban and Alabama were underdogs, they won, including the win last month over Georgia, which was a touchdown favorite.

So, momentum says that goes to 4-0, right? Or is a favorite due to beat Alabama, if you go with Bertman’s thinking?

Bertman said, according to the law of averages, he should have lost one of those five national championship games. But he didn’t. He was actually better than the law of averages he preached.

So, I’m going against the law of averages and picking the better coach.

The smart money is not on Smart.

Alabama will win Saban’s eighth national championship. And Bertman will be watching.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau has been on the LSU beat since 1998 with multiple outlets in Louisiana, prior to that he had covered both Auburn and Alabama. He won first place for his game feature on LSU's upset at Florida last season from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He was also named Beat Writer of Year, by Louisiana Sports Writers Association in July; placed in three Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) categories – Beat Writer, Explanatory, Game Coverage – last spring. Guilbeau was also the FWAA first-place winner for columns in 2017 and was also the top overall winner in 2016 FWAA placing first for his game story, second in columns, and receiving honorable mention for features.

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