By Hunter Ford
Paul William “Bear” Bryant, will never be surpassed or equaled by any Alabama coach, not even Nick Saban, despite whatever Shane from Centerpoint or anybody else wants to think.
I’m a lifelong Alabama fan and a huge Saban fan, and I believe Saban will win more SEC championships and possibly another national title before he leaves the Capstone. But, Saban cannot, will not, and nobody ever will, surpass the accomplishments of Paul Bryant, or overtake his legend. This is not some kind of defense offered to justify cultural hero worship, the way, say, some southerners would defend the name and character of Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis a century after the Civil War. It’s just plain fact that Saban is nowhere near close to being in the realm of Coach Bryant. Shane should know that, having lived through the best of the Bryant years.
The winning of championships and the development of a culture of winning at Alabama are two things Saban and Bryant have in common. But Saban has done nothing that Urban Meyer hadn’t done before him (win two National Championships). Shane probably would scoff at the idea of Meyer being “The next Bear.”
Bear Bryant still has two more national championships than Meyer and Saban combined, and Bear raked in a dozen SEC Titles, leaving both of the SEC’s current best head coaches lagging way behind.
Bryant was a legend in his own time whose career spanned at least three distinct eras of football. The 1950s, saw Bryant resurrect two programs, Kentucky and Texas A&M, in an era of football that no modern coach could even try to emulate today. They couldn’t without getting fired (see Leach and Leavitt). At Kentucky, Bryant guided the Wildcats to one of their only all-time SEC Titles and he made a name for himself by beating Bud Wiilkinsons’s Oklohoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl, ending one of college football’s longest ever winning streaks.
Bryant took the Aggies and developed a Heisman Trophy winner (John David Crowe), beat Texas and had an undefeated season before leaving for Tuscaloosa.
Bryant entered the next era of football, the 1960s, winning national championships and developing future NFL stars like Joe Namath, Leroy Jordan, Ray Perkins, Kenny Stabler and others.
The late sixties with its social changes posed challenges that Bryant met and overcame. Bryant weathered a two year funk and blew into the disco era with the wishbone, winning three more national titles. Bryant and Bama dominated the 70s like no other team will ever be able to, not even the twenty-first century Tide with Saban at the helm.
Saban did well at Michigan State, he did even better at LSU, and he has done a spectacular job so far at Alabama.
But, in my opinion, Saban has not had to travel and adapt through the paths of different eras like Bryant did. Another thing that sets Bryant apart from Saban is persona. Bryant had a signature, his houndstooth hat. He was a crusty character in an era when that was in vogue. He openly smoked and drank, and was rough and tough with his players, when you could not only do that, but it was seen as socially acceptable, even admirable. Bryant was larger than life in an era where media exposure was very low relevant to today’s standards. Saban has no signature, and his persona is mostly that of an intense, introverted, jerk-to-the-media. Davy Crockett, or Bryant, he is far from.
Bryant not only has 200 more football victories than Saban currently has, he has a legend that lives on even as Saban sits on the throne Bryant once occupied. Fans who weren’t born before Bryant died wear houndstooth hats, caps and skirts to games. These kids probably don’t know diddly about Bear. Yet they are literally clothed in his influence. Saban, hasn’t reached that level yet, and will need many more years to even come close.