Bryant, Saban, Power & Alabama

An Auburn fan posted a comment on the blog about Nick Saban and Bear Bryant. The comment provoked a strong response from me, and I think it is something worth looking at closer.

Here’s the relevant portion of the comment: “I’m just glad we didn’t blow 40 grand for somebody other than the head coach to motivate his players….I wonder what Bear would think about that?”

This prompted my response.

Who cares what the Bear would think about it? I don’t.

While I appreciate the past, and I try to learn from the lessons of history (reading Caesar’s Gallic Campaigns or the like), I’m more interested in taking the lessons of the greats and applying them to the modern world.

Bryant can teach us many things, but he isn’t a lawgiver on a mountaintop. (though that would make an awesome photoshop project!)

From what I see, Auburn fans talk more about Bryant than we do.

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Alabama fans have a reverence for the past, but are looking toward the future. That was a topic covered in RBR’s Yea Alabama preseason magazine. Todd from RBR was on the Opening Drive on WJOX earlier this week. There is an element of the interview where Todd talks about that article on how Saban has changed fans. In case you missed it (and I did) you can listen to the interview of RBR’s Todd at the WJOX website.

Other things have changed too
Saban is changing not only the fans but the culture of Alabama football. There is no doubt about Saban’s position of power within the Alabama nation. It is safe to say there is none more powerful. And Forbes has only magnified this fact with making Saban its cover story.

The Forbes story sparked one of the best Cecil Hurt columns ever.

Hurt quotes The Tao Te Ching on leadership: “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”

Hurt then makes a very important point about the post-Bryant list of coaches.

Now that Saban has been granted this great authority, will he prove to be truly powerful and master himself? That’s where the Alabama job has swallowed other coaches in the post-Paul Bryant era, undone not only by external circumstances but by their own shortcomings as well. (Gene Stallings would be the exception.)

A source less obscure than the Tao Te Ching saw the same thing.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity,” Abraham Lincoln noted, “but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

The post-Bryant years could make a tragedy worthy of Aeschylus. Ray Perkins was done in by his own arrogance. Bill Curry was a buffoon forced on Alabama by a malevolant president. Gene Stallings was a bright spot during our winter of discontent; however, he was weakened by his own stubbornness. Mike Dubose was a man weakened by the appetites of the flesh. Dennis Franchione was a man who dropped his sword and fled like a coward, despite possessing great talent and ability. Mike Price couldn’t keep his pants zipped. Mike Shula was a man out of his depth.

None of these men knew how to control themselves or address their weakness. That is why they failed.

Cecil’s quote and this discussion reminded me of a quote of Sun Tzu: “If you know your enemy and know yourself, then you need not fear the outcome of a 1,000 battles.”

Saban has won the first of those 1,000 battles. He has Alabama fans thinking about the future more than the past. And that is a triumph worthy of a magazine cover. And maybe a statue.