Nick Saban is a better, more dominant coach than Bear Bryant.
There, I said it, it’s blasphemy in Alabama to say that anyone doing anything has ever been better than the Bear was at coaching football, but it’s true. Saban is better.
If you gave Nick Saban a team to coach in his prime and if you gave Bear Bryant a team to coach in his prime, Nick Saban’s team would destroy the Bear’s.
Strip away the mythology that surrounds the Bear and compare him with Saban and you’ll see that the data actually favors Saban as the more dominant coach, especially once Saban’s Bama team beats Notre Dame on January 7th.
Once that happens Saban will become the first coach since World War II to win four national titles in ten years and the first to do so while winning titles at two different programs.
If anything, Saban’s college football dominance is underrated.
That’s because Saban has dominated the most dominant conference in college football history in a time of unquestioned SEC superiority. In the 14 year BCS era alone the SEC has won eight consensus national titles, across five different programs. Bear Bryant won his first consensus national title in 1961. Do you know how many other SEC teams won consensus national titles over the next twenty-one years that he coached at Alabama?
Just one, Georgia in 1980.
During his tenure Bear Bryant dominated SEC teams that weren’t that successful on a national level. Put simply, the SEC as a whole wasn’t very strong when Bear Bryant dominated the league.
Meanwhile Saban has crushed all competition while the league is at its absolute apex, the pax Secana era of Southern fried dominance.
Consider the following: Saban’s teams have played for the national title in five of the last eight seasons he’s coached in college football.
Think about how crazy this is for a minute.
Over half the time in his past eight years in college football he’s had his team playing for the national title.
And he’s done it at two different schools during that time period. (Plus, Saban deserves at least some of the credit for LSU’s 2007 national title).
Put it this way, do you really doubt that Nick Saban would win at least one national title at Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Texas A&M, South Carolina, or Arkansas if he was given five years to do so? I mean, do you doubt this at all? He won a title at LSU in four years and he won a title at Bama in three years.
He could do it at these other schools as well.
In 2003 Saban won the national title at LSU. In 2004 his LSU team won ten regular season games — losing by a single point on the road at SEC champion Auburn — and he left for the Miami Dolphins. This counts as a down year for Saban. Then he came back to Alabama in 2007 and the Crimson Tide went 7-6. You can argue it isn’t even hardly fair to count this year, but we will. In every year since 2008 with the lone exception of 2010 — a team that Saban will tell you may have been his best at Alabama — Saban’s teams have played for the national title.
(Stop with the emails, Saban’s team lost to Florida in the 2008 SEC title game, that was the national title game in 2008).
Want some more numbers?
Saban’s teams have only allowed more than 30 points one time in the last four years. (A 35-21 road loss at South Carolina in 2010). In 2010, the only year in the past four that Bama didn’t play for the national title, Saban’s Tide was good enough to take a 24-0 lead against eventual national champion Auburn. That year’s team lost two SEC games by a combined four points or it would have played for the BCS title as well.
Las Vegas has made Saban’s Bama teams a favorite in 41 consecutive games, a streak that dates all the way back to the 2009 SEC title game, when Saban’s Crimson Tide team made Tim Tebow cry en route to the national title.
How dominant has Saban been? No modern coach has ever won four consensus titles in a ten year period. Saban is about to do that despite taking two of those years off to coach in the NFL. If Saban’s team beats Notre Dame — as the Crimson Tide definitely will — Saban will have won four national titles in the past eight years he’s coached in college football.
The Bear can’t match this level of dominance.
Not even close.
Oh, sure, the Bear is on the Mt. Rushmore of SEC coaches — I’d go with Bear Bryant, Steve Spurrier, General Neyland, and Nick Saban as my foursome — but he’s no longer the best Alabama football coach.
Nick Saban is.
Consider the following, for much of Bear Bryant’s tenure at Alabama there were no scholarship limitations. Can you imagine what Nick Saban would do with no scholarship limitations at Alabama? Plus, as noted above, the SEC wasn’t that strong during the Bear’s tenure, just one other team won a consensus national title once the Bear won his first title in 1961. Finally, the Bear won six national titles, but only three of those championships were consensus titles. In fact, in two of those national title years the Bear actually lost his bowl game. (Titles were awarded before bowl games were even played in earlier years of college football. Proving that college football has always been wildly dysfunctional).
So if you apply modern title standards to the Bear’s championships, he just ends up with two consensus titles that ended in bowl wins.
That’s the same number that Nick Saban already has at Alabama before he coaches against Notre Dame — Saban’s 2003 title is split — and Saban’s coached 19 fewers seasons at Alabama than Bear Bryant did.
I’ll grant you that the Bear’s tenure was longer — 25 years to 6 — and the Bear won more SEC titles, but Saban has actually been more dominant, winning a greater percentage of his games at Alabama than Bear Bryant did.
Put simply, Nick Saban is the better coach, the best in Alabama and SEC history.
And if Saban coaches for five more years at Alabama does anyone really want to wager that he won’t win at least one more national titles during that time frame? Really, you want to take those odds? Especially since Saban’s Tide is likely to be number one overall in the 2013 preseason and since beginning in 2014 we have a legit playoff?
If Saban stays five more years at Alabama I think Saban’s likely to match the Bear’s six national titles. Only, at least five of Saban’s titles will be consensus national championships, meaning no one else would be able to claim them at all. Remember, only two of Bear Bryant’s titles are consensus championships that ended with bowl game victories.
Ultimately, if you break down their legacies Nick Saban has done the impossible, he’s out Bear’d the Bear.