ATLANTA — The 24-hour rule for enjoying a win remains in effect, but Nick Saban is going to reflect on this one at some point.
It may not be today, or tomorrow, because he has to make some coaching moves, help players decide on whether to enter the NFL draft, and, of course, recruit. It’s on his list of things to do at some point — after things like sleep.
“Isn’t there Sleepless in Seattle?” the University of Alabama coach quipped. “Isn’t that it? This is kind of Sleepless in Atlanta.
“But I think I’m going to. I really do. I think I’m going to. I don’t watch TV much. I don’t watch ESPN. Maybe if I do, maybe I’ll think about it some. It’s really been a bit of a whirlwind since the game.”
Regardless, with Alabama’s incredible 26-23 overtime victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, he’s done what many believed to be impossible, or at least highly unlikely during their lifetime: See a coach match Paul “Bear” Bryant’s record of six national titles.
After arriving in Tuscaloosa with one in tow, it took him just 11 seasons to do it. Some of Bryant’s weren’t quite as rock-solid, either.
“This is not something that is just about me, and I think Coach Bryant is probably the best coach of all time because of the longevity of his tenure as a coach and the way he changed,” Saban said Tuesday morning.
“I mean, he won championships running the wishbone. He won them with Joe Namath dropping back throwing when people never, ever did it. I just think that, for his time, he impacted the game and had more success than anybody ever could.”
Actually, in terms of on-field success, Saban has clearly overtaken him. Bryant remains a bigger icon, but this kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen anymore, especially with the 85-man scholarship limit (which has only been in effect since the 1994 season) and the NCAA continually trying to level the playing field.
“There’s a lot of conversation out there,” said Phil Savage, executive director of the Senior Bowl and analyst on Crimson Tide radio broadcasts. “The old-guard Alabama fans will always revere what Coach Bryant did. The modern-era Alabama will always revere what Coach Saban has done. But from a national perspective, people will always relate to numbers.”
That’s not to say that Saban’s rise has come at the expense of Bryant’s status. It hasn’t. This season might have been his best coaching job yet to date, especially considering all the injuries the team endured, but the Bear is still the Bear in the annals of college football.
There also wasn’t a changing of the guard here.
When asked beforehand if an Alabama win changed Saban’s legacy in any way, ESPN announcer and Crimson Tide graduate Rece Davis said “I don’t think it does at all — unless you’re one of the people who is into counting championships. In my judgment, the situation is that he is already the greatest college football coach who ever lived, but when I say that, you’re splitting eyelashes.”
Similarly, the expectation level doesn’t change. Saban may be 66 years old, with everyone outside of the program wondering how much longer he can keep doing this. He gave them a good answer Monday night while adding on to his dynasty, which now has to be considered the greatest ever.
Happiness! From Nick Saban! pic.twitter.com/Mct9kaFYJk
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) January 9, 2018
Yes, even better those credited to Bryant, although he had to impressively reinvent the Crimson Tide midway through his 1958-82 reign.
“Alabama, we just don’t think like that,” former All-Pro running back Shaun Alexander said. “However you want to label us, this is what Alabama is. We are the home of champions. We don’t care if you call it a dynasty.
“If another team gets hot. If Miami goes on a run for a couple of years, or Clemson goes on a run for a couple of years, we’re going to fix ourselves and then you’ll see us again. That’s what we expect. We expect to be around every decade.”
Regardless, we might never see anything like five titles over nine years again. One has to look at other sports for comparisons because there just aren’t any in college football.
His domination has also been unique in other ways as well. For example, the list of active coaches who can claim to have a win against Saban keeps getting shorter. It’s down to down to Kirk Ferentz, Gus Malzahn, Urban Meyer, Mark Richt, Dabo Swinney and Kyle Whittingham.
Saban has only lost only nine games to conference opponents since 2008, which is even more impressive when you factor in most of those years were during what former commissioner Mike Slive called the golden years of the league.
This was the SEC’s 10th national title since 2003, with no other conference having more than two.
For Nick Saban to win 5 national titles in 9 years already tells you the caliber of coach he is, but to have the guts to play a true freshman QB — who hadn’t played any meaningful snaps all year — in the title game only cements his place as one of the greats to coach in any sport
— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) January 9, 2018
One consequence to that is Saban became the dean of the league last year, as school after school jettisoned who they had to try someone else. Six have been replaced for the 2018 season, and former Alabama assistants have never been more popular.
“A rising tide lifts all ships,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said, and those ships are all reloading.
Among them, Tennessee hired away Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who went around the Crimson Tide locker room after the win and wished everyone well before heading to Knoxville.
Texas A&M successfully lured away Jimbo Fisher from Florida State, who helped Saban win his first national title at LSU in 2003.
“It says that he’s doing a hell of a job, that’s he’s getting it done,” Fisher said about the five titles his former boss has won since. “I look forward to competing against him.”
Plus, Kirby Smart may only be getting started at Georgia. This loss will haunt him, but he’s begun to build a reciting powerhouse that could make the Bulldogs a regular fixture atop the SEC East. Saban improved to 12-0 against his former assistants, yet no one had come within 14 points before.
“Georgia, when you’ve seen all the thing that I’ve seen, it’s going to be an attractive school for a long time,” said former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, who was named to the 2018 College Football Hall of Fame class on Sunday morning.
Majority of LB crew banged up, OL banged up, new OC, DC leaving for another job, replaced QB & LT with freshman in the title game…..
The most impressive coaching performance on the Nick Saban resume.
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) January 9, 2018
That’s why Saban said the 24-hour rule is still in place because there’s another challenge around the corner and they’re only getting tougher. Granted, everyone in college football has been gunning for the Crimson Tide for years, but with each championship the target only gets bigger.
So he’ll enjoy this one, especially with the way the game ended, and then roll his sleeves back up and get back to work. When Saban does get a chance to a reflect a little, he’ll come to the same conclusion as everyone else.
“It’s obviously an incredible legacy of achievement,” Sankey said.