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Couch: Saban, Alabama Are Greatest Of All Time … For This Year, Anyway

It’s hard to keep finding ways to inflate the word “greatest.” After Clemson won the national championship two years ago, blowing out the all-time greatest Alabama, the Tigers were the new greatest team ever. And that made last year’s LSU team the greatest-est. 

So what does that make Alabama after its 52-24 win over Ohio State to win the national championship? The bestest of the greatest.

On Monday, Alabama coach Nick Saban won his seventh national championship, breaking Alabama legend Bear Bryant’s record to become, you guessed it, the greatest coach of all time.

“To me, this team accomplished more almost than any team,’’ Saban said. “No disrespect to any other teams that we had or any championship teams.’’

That came straight from the GOAT’s mouth.

This was Saban’s second undefeated team. The other was in 2009. And this team — because of scheduling restrictions caused by COVID — didn’t have any breaks, playing 11 Southeastern Conference games. Then it beat Notre Dame and Ohio State. 

We have a strange obsession with insisting that what we’re seeing now is better than anything anyone has seen before. Certainly, ESPN has been pushing that for years. You don’t want to miss history, I guess. I’d just like to say this: There were some pretty good things before, too.

Today’s talking points are about Alabama’s offense, Saban and this whole Alabama team being the GOAT. Maybe not the defense. We don’t know that for sure, though, because Ohio State won the national semifinal game against Clemson. So the Crimson Tide didn’t have to face Trevor Lawrence, a once-in-a-generation, possibly greatest-ever college quarterback.

Personally, I thought Joe Burrow and LSU were pretty amazing. That was 12 months ago.

But it’s hard to know what to say after Monday night’s game. If it doesn’t include “est’’ on the end, it will be seen as an insult. So that’s what everyone will write.

To me, the most amazing-est thing is how Saban, who’s 69, reinvented himself and his team. It’s actually inspirational. Most people don’t hit the reset button in their mid-60s and then do their best work.

For so long, Saban’s teams had been built around pounding the ball on offense and playing outrageous defense. No one did it better-est than Saban and Alabama.

Saban decided, as he said earlier this year, that great defense can’t stop great offense anymore. So Alabama is spreading the field and throwing the ball all over the place, going around and over defenses and not just through them. And now Alabama has the best offensive line, best running back in Najee Harris and the Heisman Trophy winner in receiver in DeVonta Smith.

“‘The other undefeated team we had had great people and great players,’’ Saban said. “They were a great team, too. I think (the game) has changed. It’s a little more wide open, a little more spread. The team has adapted, and we’ve changed with it.’’

It looked like something happened to Alabama after the Iron Bowl of 2013. Saban made a bad call, Auburn ran a missed field goal back for a touchdown, and the Alabama perfection was gone. Then the Tide lost to Oklahoma in a bowl game. The next year, they lost to Ohio State in the College Football Playoff.

In the past two years, it seemed that Clemson had bypassed Alabama. But now, the Tide have come back to win again.

This could go on for a while.

Comparing Saban to Bear Bryant is a little tough. It’s a different era and Bryant had to deal with a social value in the Deep South that I’m not sure Saban has had to face. Saban has also said that Bryant won in various ways.

“His legacy lasts over a long, long period of time,’’ Saban said. “We all have to adjust with the times.’’

The game will adjust again. Offenses pull ahead and then defensive coaches go about trying to catch up. It’s a pattern with the sport. Sooner or later, someone will figure out how to stop this offensive trend in football.

Don’t bet against it being Saban. He’s the bestest of the greatest.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

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