Sports Outside the Beltway

Nick Saban Comes to Alabama

Our long national (championship) nightmare is over. The University of Alabama has hired Nick Saban as its new head coach, ending weeks of speculation.

My folks to Alabama in 1980, halfway through my freshman year in high school. I’ve been following the Crimson Tide almost as long and actively rooting for them since the late 1980s. I was in my first year of grad school at the Capstone in 1992, the year they won their last national championship.

Saban is the first big name coach hired by Bama since Gene Stallings was pushed out the door and, by all accounts, he’s as good a college football coach as any. Jim Mashek of McClatchy Newspapers dubs him “a diligent, dedicated football coach, with negligible people skills.” But his personality might be necessary for the gig: “Saban has the ego to handle the shadow of Bear Bryant in Tuscaloosa. He has a proven track record in the SEC, and with Mayflower, too. He would bring instant credibility to Alabama recruiting.” That’s good, because the stakes are high: “He’ll be expected to win national championships at Alabama (shoot, The Bear won a bunch of them), but first things first. He’ll be expected to beat Tuberville’s Auburn squad. Immediately if not sooner.”

The idea that any college team will compete for a national championship every year and never, ever have a losing season is a remnant of a long-ago era. With scholarships limited, academic standards raised, and the lure of the NFL ever-stronger, it’s just unreasonable to expect not to have any bumps in the road. What Peter Carrol has done at USC in recent years is remarkable indeed. Then again, it looked like Bob Stoops had discovered the secret to success, too, not so many years back.

Steven Taylor and I independently noted the irony of Alabama luring away a coach who had so publicly committed to a long term future with another team not too far removed from having the same thing happen to them with Dennis Franchione left for Texas A&M. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the coaching business. Lying is quickly forgotten, especially if followed quickly by winning.

If Saban truly wants the small time life and has learned that the college campus, not the NFL, is where he wants to be, there’s no better place to live that life than Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The level of scrutiny and expectation is absurd, to be sure. But, if he beats Auburn more often than not and competes for a national championship with some regularity, he will be a legend in a way that was never possible in Baton Rouge or Miami. There is just nowhere else football is as important.

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