Since 2008, Alabama football has collected four SEC crowns, four national championships, six straight national recruiting titles (2011-16 — source: 247Sports) and eight consecutive seasons of double-digit victories (longest active streak among FBS clubs).
What’s more, Alabama could be in line for its fifth championship of the Saban era this fall — a hypothetical crown that would square Saban with icon Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant on the all-time list of national titles with six apiece.
In animal terms, Alabama, which claims 16 national championships, has become the college-football equivalent of the 800-pound gorilla.
Consequently, it should surprise no one that Crimson Tide coaches/staffers have begun to hear whispers of opposing programs using Saban’s age (64) as an anti-Alabama recruiting tactic.
“I’m not looking to get out. I’m really not, even though I know that’s going to start being talked about more now,” said Saban in a recent ESPN.com interview. “What I have noticed is that it’s the first time people are starting to say to recruits, ‘He won’t be there the whole time you’re there,’ because of my age. Does that really impact your ability to stay good? I don’t know. But if it did, it would make you say, ‘Well, what’s up with this?’
“My philosophy is that I’m going to be here for as long as I feel like I can be effective, impact the players, help them be more successful in life and continue to have a successful program.”
And to all this, I say: What took these rival schools so long? Do they believe this battle can be won with only conventional recruiting pitches? Did they think Saban’s Alabama empire was ever on the brink of desolation?
Here’s the reality: Saban turns 65 on Halloween Day; but there is nothing that screams AARP about the man, when observing him up close.
Heck, even when Saban dons the occasional white suit for game days (or trophy ceremonies at the College Football Hall of Fame), comprised of soft, breathable and expensive materials, he still wears it like a CEO confidently reconciling 53 or 54 — not 64 or 65.
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Ara Parseghian (then with Notre Dame) was 51 when he abruptly left college coaching in the mid-1970s.
Bo Schembechler (Michigan) retired from coaching soon after his 60th birthday.
And the innovative and inimitable Steve Spurrier (South Carolina), despite always looking tan, rested and relaxed along the sidelines, walked away from his body of work (and trademark visor) last October, shortly after turning 70.
“It was time for me to go,” Spurrier told SEC Country back in late February. He then added: “I can’t coach forever. There’s life after coaching.”
That may hold true for the golf-loving, thrill-seeking Spurrier, but it might not apply to today’s classic grinders in the coaching fraternity. A group headlined by Saban, perhaps the most intensely driven, supremely focused and relentlessly prepared coach in college sports history.
As such, if Saban can maintain this level of awe-inspiring brilliance while perpetually being the most energetic force of nature in the room, why would he ever be in a rush to stop coaching?
For him, is coaching a labor of love … or a love of labor?
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In this dog-eat-dog world of football survival, if I was a college coach directly competing against Alabama for blue-chip players in the SEC or southern region, I’d probably work a number of Crimson Tide “negs” into my regular sales pitch.
It’s almost a necessary evil … being somewhat evil, even when some statements are rooted in only partial fact.
Negative musings like:
a) Saban won’t be around for the (insert recruit’s name) four- or five-year college cycle.
b) Saban still has an NFL “itch” to scratch, as a means of rectifying the only smudge on his decorated coaching resume (15-17 record with the Miami Dolphins in 2005-06).
c) From 2000-06, the seven years before Saban came to Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide suffered through four non-winning campaigns.
d) Saban is merely waiting out Lee Corso‘s retirement at ESPN, before joining the ‘College Gameday’ set (the gold standard of college football programming).
e) Alabama has no natural successor to Saban, now that Kirby Smart (UGA), Will Muschamp (South Carolina) and Jim McElwain (Florida) are occupying other SEC schools.
Actually, that final “neg” could be remarkably prescient down the road, whenever Saban decides to retire from coaching. (As an educated guess, it’ll be longer than five years … and shorter than 10.)
Come 2023 (just throwing out a number), the Alabama vacancy would be the highest-profile opening in SEC/college football history — even if no one truly coveted the job.
You see, most football coaches are closet history buffs; and they know that, with very few exceptions (Jimmy Johnson, Tom Osborne, Les Miles immediately spring to mind), history has seldom been kind to the guy who immediately replaces a legend.
And right now, the white-hot Saban (five national titles, 148-34 record with Alabama and LSU this century) would have to lose 15 straight games … before dropping down to the ‘legend’ strata.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and Fox Sports.