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Just imagine what the college football world, particularly the Southeastern Conference, would have been like without Nick Saban, who went to 93-8 over his last 101 games on Saturday with a 55-0 opening win over Utah State to open the season and set the NCAA upper level record for most consecutive non-conference wins at 53.
Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer would have won two national championships, and who knows, maybe more, without Alabama escaping irrelevance in 2007 when it hired Saban.
Fulmer and the No. 2 Vols were on their way to another national championship game at the Rose Bowl in the 2001 season after winning it in 1998. All the Vols had to do in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta was beat an up-and-down LSU team … coached by Nick Saban.
LSU lost starting quarterback Rohan Davey early in the SEC title game, but somehow outlasted Tennessee with backup Matt Mauck for a 31-20 upset. Tennessee could have played No. 1 Miami for its second national crown in four years, but instead it was sent to the Citrus Bowl and beat Michigan to finish 11-2. The Vols have not come close to sniffing another national title since.
“No, I’m not glad he’s back,” Fulmer said with a smile at the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Florida, in 2007 when asked about Saban returning to the SEC after two seasons with the Miami Dolphins. “I wish his butt had stayed in the NFL.”
Fulmer lost his next two games to Saban, 41-17 and 29-9, and was out of coaching after the 2008 season. Saban, who won the first national title of his career at LSU in the 2003 season, went to Miami after the 2004 season. The five UT coaches since Fulmer are a combined 0-13 against Saban, who has won six national titles at Alabama beginning in 2009.
Before Saban, Tennessee had won 10 of 12 over Alabama beginning in 1995.
Nick Saban Has Been Hard On LSU, Notre Dame, Auburn Too
Former LSU coach Les Miles, who replaced Saban going into 2005, may have three national championships to his credit had Saban stayed in the NFL. Miles won it all in 2007, but his No. 1, 13-0 SEC championship team in 2011 lost to the Tide, 21-0, in the national championship game in New Orleans. That LSU team would’ve have beaten any other opponent in America for its second national title in five years.
And Miles may have won it all in 2012 – if not for Saban. Without a last-minute, 21-17 loss to No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 3, LSU would have finished the regular season at 11-1 and likely played for another national title. After Miles and LSU beat Saban three out of the first five times they played from 2007-11, Miles went 0-for-5 against him and was fired by LSU early in the 2016 season.
Before that 21-0 loss in the national championship game, Miles was 5-2 against Alabama since 2005.
New LSU coach Brian Kelly could have two national championships instead of zero had Saban stayed in Miami. Kelly’s Notre Dame team lost to Alabama in the national championship game of the 2012 season and would have had a chance against likely any other team. And he lost to him again in a College Football Playoff semifinal in the 2020 season. The Irish would have likely fared better that year against other playoff teams Ohio State and Clemson, which lost to Notre Dame in the 2020 regular season.
Auburn likely would not be on its fourth coach with a fifth likely on the way soon had Saban not gone to Alabama. Auburn is 4-10 against Alabama since 2008 and will likely not become a national contender again until he leaves. Auburn was 6-1 against Alabama pre-Saban and beat him in his first season in 2007 before he got things going.
Check Tennessee, LSU and Auburn coaching turnover history for the term, “Saban-ator,” as in job terminator.
Funny, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn fans tend to hate Saban the most. But you know damn well each fan base would have killed to have Saban as their coach through any of their multitude of hires since about 2004. And maybe still would take him — even at 71 on Halloween.
Yes, there will be a 13-team collective sigh of relief when Saban does decide to retire after this season or next, or it could be a 15-team joyous breath should he stay long enough for Oklahoma’s and Texas’ entry into the league in 2024 or 2025.
Texas, which tried to hire Saban to replace Mack Brown after the 2013 season, would likely take him right now in time for the Alabama-Texas game Saturday (Noon, FOX) in Austin. Steve Sarkisian, a former Saban assistant, is Texas’ third coach since Brown left.
When Saban does leave, the SEC will be fresher and more fun with seemingly everyone having a better chance to win. Georgia and coach Kirby Smart, another Saban disciple, will win another national title or two, but they’re not going to take over the league like the Tide. Neither will Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher, another Saban disciple, if they ever win their first SEC title.
We Will Miss Saban When He’s Not Coaching Anymore
But don’t be surprised if before too long after Saban’s exit, you miss him, particularly if you have any objectivity or some respect for the best that ever was.
Listening to Saban on his radio show Thursday night, though, he sounded like he was still about 50 something and ready to roll for national title No. 8.
“How can Alabama run the table? I mean, can’t you figure out something better to do than that? I mean, come on,” Saban said with Tuscaloosa News columnist Chase Goodbread sitting right next to him.
Saban was upset about writers recently skipping over Saturday night’s opener against 41.5-point underdog Utah State and looking at Texas or other teams down the road that may have a chance against the Tide.
“How can Alabama lose to this team? How can this team beat Alabama? Three months from now,” Saban yelled incredulously as he threw his right arm out. “Who gives a sh-t?”
Goodbread and Voice of Alabama Chris Stewart (replacing the ill Eli Gold) started cracking up as the crowd applauded and cheered.
“I mean, how about this game? How about the church of what’s happening now? Like now,” Saban pleaded as he pressed his fingers on the table for emphasis as if he was playing a piano.
Nick Saban already in mid season form👀🍿 pic.twitter.com/175b8n8fH4— BamaInsider.com 🥋 (@bamainsider) September 2, 2022
“Can we focus on what’s happening now? How come no one’s interested in that? Why do we have to go all the way to,” and he just stopped. “Anyway.”
And Goodbread and Stewart and the crowd was laughing again. Even Saban managed a bit of a smile.
Obviously Saban was focused on Utah State and got his team do so as well. The 55-0 win was the most lopsided for Alabama since Saban took over. It was Alabama’s first shutout in an opener since Temple in 1988. The Tide, which led 34-0 at half, scored on its first nine drives and outgained Utah State, 559-136. Quarterback Bryce Young looked like a consecutive Heisman winner as he completed 18 of 28 for 195 yards with five touchdowns and showed another aspect of his game – running. He gained 100 yards on five carries with a touchdown and a 63-yard jaunt.
But classic Saban wasn’t close to calling it perfect.
“There are things that we need to improve on and get better at,” he said.
Yes, it’s football season again. Saban’s mad and exacting, and nobody does it better.
Rat Poison, if he retires any time soon!