Les Miles vs. Nick Saban: The Grass Meets the Process

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You’re either a Nick Saban guy or a Les Miles guy.

As the Grass Bowl inches closer and the biggest regular season game in SEC history nears, it’s become an incontrovertible fact, you’re riding with Les or you’re rolling with Saban. The single most fascinating aspect to this game is the extreme differences beetween the two men helming their respective teams. One man coaches based on rigroous gameplanning and data points, the other believes in football karma, the gods of the sod.   

If you’re a Saban guy you don’t believe in karma or ghosts or anything outside the realm of game film. You’re a process guy, a rigorous applier of logic to a game or your own life. Nick Saban is very smart like lots of men are very smart. I guarantee you Saban was good at math, he coaches football like it’s a difficult equation to solve. Input the right weight at linebacker, the mammoth defensive tackle and the corners with loose hips and the result is the stifling of movement. Football to Nick Saban is a process, but it’s also an equation that he’s solved.

Please excuse my dear Uncle Nick. (It’s algebra, stupid!)    

Rooting for Nick Saban is like rooting for the industrial revolution, it feels inevitable. Football as science, robotics meets pads. Nick Saban’s men play like well-oiled machines, a cheoreographed march of destruction. Anything that interferes with that march is an annoyance. Ask LSU people what working under Nick Saban was like and they’ll be quiet for a long time and then say, after requesting anonymit, “The guy’s a complete ass—-.” All he cares about in life is winning football games.

That’s it.

The process is simple, apply it, fulfill the equation, and you win. But these wins don’t make Nick Saban happy. Look at him on the sideline. Look at him anywhere. This is a profoundly unhappy man. He’s not relishing in the joy of the moment, he’s not joyful. At no point in life has football brought him joy. It’s hard work, the science of gridiron conquest. Now compare him with Les Miles on a Saturday. Miles relishes each moment; there is nothing in life he would rather be doing. Football is fun. Put simply, Nick Saban would never eat grass to connect with the karma of the game. If you asked Nick Saban about eating grass at a press conference, as I asked Les Miles, Saban would stare at you like Darth Vader, lift his right hand, and choke you to death.    

On the contrary, here was Les Miles when I asked him about grass eating.

Unlike Nick Saban Les Miles believes in the Gods of the Sod.

He coaches by intuition, feel. He’s smarter at gameplanning than he’s given credit for — last year Miles outcoached Saban — but ultimately football is a karmic discipline for Les Miles. Before big plays you lean over and humble yourself before the altar of competition. And for this piety, he’s been rewarded with some of the most amazing wins in SEC history. In the past, I’ve called them Milacles. But now I think that’s unfair to Les, if good fortune keeps happening to the same person, it’s something more than luck.

Fortune favors the bold. (Especially if he eats grass).

Talk to SEC officials about Les Miles and they’ll tell you that he’s the easiest coach to get along with on the sideline. He’ll talk about things that have nothing to do with football during game stoppages. Talk to LSU athletic department employees and they’ll regale you with stories about Miles stopping them in the hallway. He knows their birthdays, their kids’ names. The day after Les Miles admitted to eating grass the LSU sports information department put out grass clippings as part of the media meal. 

Try that in Tuscaloosa.  

Les Miles guys aren’t that good at math and they aren’t that good at five year plans. Process? They laugh at process. Les Miles guys go off on long meandering journeys where the trip itself is the purpose. Nick Saban hasn’t taken a purposeless trip in his life. That’s why Miles is the perfect foil to Nick Saban. You can’t out-Saban Saban, not consistently, but you can throw him for a loop by being a little bit loopy. When Nick Saban prepares to coach against someone like him, he wins. When he tries to prepare for Les Miles, he can’t quite get inside his opponent’s head. It’s too wacky for him in there, the leaps of logic are too large, intuition often dictates different choices than logic.  

It’s hard to process grass eating.  

Inevitably process meets grass in the world of sports, but also in the larger world. Disciples of both paths can have great success. Steve Jobs? He’s a Les Miles guy. Bill Gates? He’s a Nick Saban guy. George W. Bush, for better and worse, was a Les Miles man, Jimmy Carter, for better and worse, was a Nick Saban man.

Apply the rough outlines of each man’s life to your own or to other successful men’s and you find, time and again, that the conflict between process and grass occurs over and over. Nick Saban wouldn’t acknowledge karma, but it’s the yin to each man’s yang, the flip of a coin, the test of chance, when an unbroken equation finds an outlier that doesn’t make sense.

Ultimately the clash between process and grass is cataclysmic, like matter and anti-matter colliding.   

For most of this season the two men’s teams have been stalking one another, destroying foe after foe, always focused on the task at hand but occasionally looking over their shoulder at one another’s games. Now comes the epic fight, the heavyweight clash, process vs. the grass.

Nick Saban is 44-5 in his last 49 games, but he’s only 2-2 against Les Miles. Meanwhile, Les is seeking a second national title that is entirely of his own making. The two men have the best teams two teams in the country. In head-to-head contests, they’re completely even.

Now grass meets process and every single college football fan in the country will be rooting for Les or Saban. 

Are you a Les guy or a Saban guy?

The answer to that question will go a long way towards telling you who you’re rooting for in the biggest game in SEC history. 

For me, there’s no doubt at all — I’m rolling with Les.  

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.


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