TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nick Saban denies it, up and down, but his tenure as Alabama’s head coach has fundamentally reshaped the landscape of coaching in the SEC. His standard of success and dominance in recruiting has raised the bar to unattainable heights for some of the most storied coaches in the SEC. On the other hand, the rare coach who beats Nick Saban has earned himself a few million dollars or an extension.
When Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies came into Tuscaloosa and upset in Alabama in 2012, the former Houston man became one of the hottest coaches on the scene. When the NFL and major college football programs came calling, Sumlin leveraged that into a 50 percent raise, placing himself in the top half of the SEC and extending his contract through 2017. A year later, after a 9-4 season that included a narrow loss to Saban, Sumlin signed a 6-year $30 million contract, making him the seventh-best paid coach in the country.
Sumlin’s not the only one whose situation has changed, for good or ill, thanks in part to Saban’s stature.
Mark Richt, late of UGA
Richt left Georgia with a 145-51 record, five division championships, two SEC Championships and one losing season in 15 years. Unfortunately for Richt, the standard at UGA is winning the SEC Championship, not losing to Alabama and LSU in back-to-back years while losing the best recruits in the Atlanta area. When Alabama traveled to Athens and effectively ended a promising UGA season last year, Richt’s days were numbered.
Les Miles, late of LSU
The nominal reasons for firing Miles don’t necessarily include Saban. LSU’s offense had grown stagnant, certainly, and Miles’ record of “developing” quarterbacks grew more and more embarrassing by the year. But rest assured, if Miles wins even one or two of the five straight he lost to Alabama, his situation is completely different, archaic offense or otherwise. It didn’t help that Saban came into Louisiana and signed players like Landon Collins and Cam Robinson under Miles’ watch, but the Tigers recruited extraordinarily well given their footprint. When Miles left LSU, he left with Saban’s well-wishes and the best winning percentage in LSU history.
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Freeze, on the other hand, is the closest thing Saban might have to a nemesis. You don’t need me to tell you that his teams pulled off the upset two years in a row and gave Alabama its only scare of the season so far this year. Freeze was given a four-year, $4.3 million contract after a 9-3 season that boasted a home win over Alabama in 2014. I’m not sure how much longer Freeze can coast on his relative success against Alabama – his contract features a sizeable bonus for an SEC Championship Game berth that he can’t seem to secure.