Nick Saban stands alone.
I mean, really, really alone.
With five national championships — four of them at Alabama — Saban isn’t just flirting with Bear Bryant level. He’s surpassed it because Saban is coaching in an age when talented players leave early for the NFL, scholarships are limited but social media scrutiny isn’t, and programs such as Oregon, Boise State, Kansas State and Baylor can come out of nowhere and win big.
His five titles equal the combined total of the other 129 FBS coaches, counting Urban Meyer’s three and one each by Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher.
Saban isn’t coaching at Bear’s Alabama.
Despite those hurdles, he coaches with unmatched success. Only two other SEC coaches have beaten him — and Gus Malzahn needed a 109-yard missed field goal return, and Kevin Sumlin needed the best player in Texas A&M’s history. Heck, Tennessee’s lost 10 straight to Bama. And two years after Saban’s last title and one year after coming within one measly second of back-to-back titles, his Crimson Tide rank No. 1 in the annual American-Statesman Top 25 preseason poll.
No, Saban is Bear Bryant, but better.
The rest of the SEC?
Well, it’s just bare.
The league that once boasted names such as Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, Tommy Tuberville, Les Miles and Phillip Fulmer now has a bunch of relative no-names such as Barry Odom, Derek Mason and Ole Miss’ Fill in the Blank. Hugh Freeze was the only SEC coach to have beaten Saban twice.
Two SEC schools have former Saban underlings in charge: the East’s Florida (Jim McElwain) and Georgia (Kirby Smart). McElwain has won 19 games the past two seasons but got pummeled 54-16 by the Tide last year. Yeah, that was competitive.
LSU couldn’t land Tom Herman and instead promoted the totally unproven Ed Orgeron, who went 10-25 as head coach at Ole Miss and won three of 24 SEC games. Coach O might really be Coach I since he was an interim coach at LSU and before that USC.
But then, aren’t they all interim head coaches in the SEC besides Saban?
Sumlin and Tennessee’s Butch Jones are on hot seats, and Arkansas might be wondering if it kept the receipt on Bret Bielema.
No one, and I mean no one, is pushing Saban, which can only mean the best conference in all of college football is slipping. Yes — dare we say it? — the SEC isn’t the SEC it once was. The ACC passed it with two titles in the past four years as Clemson and Florida State both beat SEC teams in the championship game. The Big Ten’s either on a par with the SEC or knocking on the door. And the Big 12 … well, no, sorry. Won’t even pretend there.
But don’t blame Bama. It’s largely Bama and the 13 dwarfs.
As usual, Saban made the rest of the conference sound far more imposing than recent results would indicate. Asked if he has turned the SEC into a one-team league, Saban said at SEC media days, “Well, I have a tremendous amount of respect for a lot of teams in our league.”
Respect, maybe. Fear? Absolutely not.
He proceeded to name nine schools — LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. He noticeably left out No. 1 rival Auburn but also Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina because, well, why include those three?
“I am trying to think of somebody in our league that I don’t have a tremendous amount of respect for,” Saban said. “I think there’s a lot of parity in our league.”
Nice try, Nick. You did know that Alabama was the only SEC football team not to have at least four losses last season, right? FOUR. Heck, the Big 12, everyone’s whipping boy, had three teams with three losses or fewer, and Oklahoma crushed Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.
So the SEC is lacking.
Mostly it’s a lack of star power.
Quick. Who’s the second-best SEC head coach? Or third? If you were constructing a team today and had your pick of any SEC coach except Saban, whom would you hire?
Is Malzahn on fire or under fire?
Dan Mullen was hot but has faded a bit.
Jones and Sumlin are closer to the unemployment line than someone you’d employ.
Will Muschamp? Is he just a glorified and damn good defensive coordinator posing as a head coach? His career record is a pedestrian 34-28.
Kirby Smart’s just too new.
Bielema’s been more bust and bluster than brilliant. He’s a game under .500 at Arkansas and can’t get out of his own way when he plays the Aggies.
Orgeron talks a good game. Let’s see if he can coach one.
You’d probably have to go with LSU as the best program and head Gator McElwain as the best coach, but of course, he learned under Saban. In fact, he’d be an obvious choice. He’s won the SEC East the past two years despite losing his quarterback at midseason in both years.
Of the SEC’s 12 non-Saban head coaches (excluding Freeze), five have losing records at their schools, including Bielema. They’re a collective 17-12 in bowl games but are less than stellar against ranked opposition.
Against Top 10 teams, those dozen coaches have gone 17-61. They’re not much better against Top 25 teams, posting a 54-127 record. Only Orgeron has a winning record with a small sample size of 3-2.
We long for the days of Meyer or Spurrier. We miss Les and his grass-eating ways. Fulmer might have been boring, but he won. And isn’t it time for Georgia to be Georgia again?
In short, it’s Nick’s World, and the rest of the SEC coaches are just here to bow down and pay homage.