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Alabama coach Nick Saban

Alabama football: a decade of Nick Saban

Good morning. The Rammer Jammer is a daily rundown of everything you need to know about Alabama athletics, published every weekday morning. 

Ten years ago today, he arrived. He was greeted by throngs of faithful, with unspeakable hope and kisses. The expectations were championships, a return to relevance, salvation from decades of ridicule and sanction. They said he wouldn’t stay. He delivered.

Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 4, 2007, the last-ditch hire by a desperate athletic director who would not be denied. That he remains in his post in a time of high expectations and low job security would be an achievement in and of itself, even if his presence had not been the factor that created that environment.

He was hired to return Alabama to the Paul “Bear” Bryant years. Pending a win on Monday, which would mark a championship in exactly half of his seasons at Alabama, he could well surpass them. His success is unprecedented and has reshaped not just college football but the landscape of the university at which he is the highest-paid employee.

I remember the first time I knew Saban had changed things at Alabama. I had grown up the son of die-hard Alabama fans in enemy territory, metro Atlanta, when the Bulldogs were at the height of their powers and Alabama labored through the Mike Shula years. Alabama fans were bottom of the heap in a school split between Georgia and Auburn fans (sorry, Tech).

The 2008 season changed all that, first with the “Blackout” game in Athens, when I discovered the ability to confrontationally wear a T-shirt, and then with the streak-ending Iron Bowl. As Bleacher Report’s Adam Kramer writes, it was that season — and that recruiting class — that turned the tide.

The Tuscaloosa News can put the Saban era in perspective much better than I can, and did so with this excellent special section led by Tommy Deas and Cecil Hurt, who have been there through it all (and more).

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of his tenure? His ability to adapt.

SEC Country’s Ken Bradley caught up with several former players to get their feelings on Saban after 10 years. Marq Burnett has a survey of the last decade’s ups and downs (mostly ups). And Roll Bama Roll has a thank-you note and retrospective to mark the occasion.

ICYMI

Built by Bama

Seatbelt check

Alabama men’s basketball opened conference play with a 68-58 win against Mississippi State on Tuesday night. Between the utter domination on the boards and the faster offense, it was Alabama’s most complete performance against non-cupcake opposition, and was so, so close to a breakout game. If Braxton Key, who still looks like Alabama’s most talented basketball player, hadn’t gotten in foul trouble with 17 minutes left in the game through a mixture of his own over-aggression and referees’ — shall we say eagerness? —Alabama very likely would have run the Bulldogs off the court in Starkville.

As it was, Mississippi State immediately began a comeback as Alabama searched for a solution. Avery Johnson Jr. and Dazon Ingram provided it, taking the game over after about 10 minutes of taking it on the chin. It’s encouraging that the two guards possessed the instincts to see the game out, but troubling that it took so long for Alabama to look comfortable again. If Key misses key (sorry) minutes for any other reason going forward, Alabama can’t afford to reel like that, and can’t write off another season like it nearly did in 2015-16 when Ingram went down.

All the same, the performance is encouraging, and was the first time in many games that Alabama’s players seemed to be playing from the same score. If the Crimson Tide can carry that momentum forward, it’ll look more like a second-tier team in the SEC than the dregs of the conference once again.

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