Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Colleges

Tom Jones: Alabama's Nick Saban has all the ingredients for success

As hard as it might be to believe today, Alabama coach Nick Saban didn't invent the game of football. It wasn't all that long ago that he wasn't the best college coach this side of Pat Dye, let alone Bear Bryant.

Remember when Saban was at Michigan State? He was a pedestrian 34-24-1 in five seasons. Remember his 15-17 record in the NFL? His two-year stint with the Dolphins was pretty much a fiasco.

Even his first three seasons at LSU, where he did eventually win a national title, didn't have anyone putting up statues or changing the name of the stadium, not with a 26-12 record.

But by winning his third national championship at Alabama and fourth overall Monday night, Saban established himself as the best college football coach in the land.

How did this happen? Here are some reasons why Saban, 61, has become a legend at Alabama.

Saban can recruit

Know why Alabama is so good? Gee, maybe it has something to do with having the best players.

When Saban took over the Tide in 2007, he put together what Rivals.com considered the 10th-best recruiting class in the nation. Over the next five seasons, Rivals.com ranked Saban's recruiting classes as first, first, fifth, first and first.

The 2008 class, the bulk and core of Saban's three national championship teams at Alabama, is considered among the greatest recruiting classes in the history of college football. Five from that class were first-round NFL picks, including Bucs safety Mark Barron and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. Center Barrett Jones could be the sixth first-rounder this spring.

The key to Saban's success in recruiting has been throwing a net around the state of talent-rich Alabama. Ten of his 22 starters Monday night, including quarterback AJ McCarron, came from Alabama.

And Saban has put the Southeast in the Southeastern Conference.

Of the 118 players listed on Alabama's roster, 50 came from Alabama, 19 from Georgia and 11 from Florida. Sixteen of Monday's 22 starters came from those three states. While Saban is reaching out to other areas of the country, this year's squad had only four players from Ohio, one from California and none from Pennsylvania, Michigan or New York.

With time, Saban is the best X's-and-O's coach in the country

Don't give Saban a month to get ready for a game. Since joining Alabama, Saban has an 11-1 record in season openers and bowl games. That includes 4-0 in BCS title games. The Tide has won the past two BCS title games by a combined score of 63-14.

Alabama had scored 69 consecutive points in BCS title games before Notre Dame's third-quarter touchdown Monday — after the Tide already had a 35-0 lead. The Tide's BCS shutout streak reached more than 108 minutes.

Lending more credence to Saban's game-plan mastery, consider last season. The Crimson Tide lost a tight game to LSU in the regular season. But when Saban had time to sort through LSU's schemes and tape from the first game, Alabama embarrassed the Tigers 21-0 in the title-game rematch. Just like Notre Dame on Monday, LSU looked outclassed and overwhelmed, mustering only five first downs all game and not even crossing midfield until the second half. It's not like Alabama's players got better or LSU's got worse in five weeks. It was coaching.

A little luck

This is in no way to suggest that Saban hasn't deserved his national titles, but he has caught a few breaks along the way. This season, the Tide was one late and long scoring drive away from losing to LSU, while Georgia came up 4 yards short of knocking off Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

Furthermore, if Kansas State or Oregon don't get upset during the regular season, one of those teams — and not Alabama — would have played the Irish Monday night. In fact, come to think of it, if Oregon had a kicker, the Ducks could have been in the past three BCS title games, and Alabama would have only one title under Saban. A couple of field goals and, perhaps, this column would be about Oregon's Chip Kelly.

Saban has won four national championships but has had only one undefeated season. That means he has needed outside help to even get to three BCS title games.

Bottom line

Saban has the best players. He knows how to coach. He has had his share of luck.

But he has the best players because he works for them. He knows how to coach because he spends countless hours studying the game. He has taken advantage of whatever second chances and luck have come his way.

It's why he has gone from just your average college coach to a legend. The scary part for the rest of the country? Saban might have a few more national championships left in him.

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