Saban the Great continues Bryant’s winning tradition

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The term “greatest of all time” gets bandied about a lot these days, and rarely is it true (see Tiger Woods, LeBron James). However, in certain cases, it is either emphatically true (Tom Brady) or definitely worth discussing. Nick Saban, Alabama’s dynastic coach, is well-worth discussing.

The discussion doesn’t stray outside of the state of Alabama. For before Saban won his five championships (six overall), there was Paul “Bear” Bryant and his six championships at Alabama. Bryant has a stadium, museum, drive and a hall named after him in Tuscaloosa, and Saban’s got a statue of himself out front. But can the two really be compared?

Bear Bryant was a trailblazer. He, in part, probably did more than anyone to advance the game of college football during his decades-long career. Now known more for his torturous, inhumane training camps than his record of 323-85-17, Bryant won championships in 1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978 and 1979. Modern-day historians also would like to say he won another two national championships – one at Kentucky in 1950 and Alabama in 1966.

Saban has won 11 Southeastern Conference titles and has a scorching-hot record of 218-62-1. Alabama’s recruiting classes have been phenomenal, and with the Clemson rivalry tilting toward ‘Bama, it’s not a stretch to think that they can win a few more. The Bowl Championship Series favors Alabama. Anytime they are picked in the top four you have to make Alabama the favorite, and not due to the talent on the field … the in-game coaching of Saban is nothing short of spectacular.

Saban has guts. He called for an onside kick at the beginning of the fourth quarter a few years back that sent Clemson reeling, leading to a dramatic win. This year, in the championship, his benching of QB Jalen Hurts at the half in favor of Tua Tagovalia, the hard-throwing freshman hotshot out of Hawaii, will go down in history as one of the greatest coaching decisions of all-time.

But is he the greatest? Saban doesn’t think so.

“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 after the title game. “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.”

Popular rumor has Saban returning to the NFL to coach the New York Giants, but the smart money says he will stay at Alabama and manufacture even more championships. Either way. It’s going to be great to watch.

Mark Vasto is a veteran sportswriter who lives in New Jersey.

(c) 2018 King Features Synd. Inc.


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