Alabama Football Preview 2011: Nick Saban means stability for Tide

Alabama football coach Nick Saban

Alabama football coach Nick Saban Photo courtesy of UA

Part 1: Stability at the top is what Nick Saban brings to Alabama

The 2011 season marks Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban’s fifth year at the Capstone. This makes Saban the second longest serving head coach in the post-Bryant era.

Ray Perkins spent four years in Tuscaloosa during the 1983-1986 campaigns. Bill Curry followed Perkins for three years including the most memorable of his campaigns the 1989 season that resulted in a Sugar Bowl trip. Stallings posted the longest tenure in the post-Bryant era with seven seasons from 1990 to 1996. Stallings tenure included an SEC Championship and National Championship in 1992. Mike Dubose succeeded Stallings at Alabama, and presided over an out-of-control ship during his four seasons. Dubose won a conference championship in 1999, but 2000 was his last campaign posting a horrible record and with an NCAA infractions case looming.

Dennis Franchione was next to coach the Crimson Tide. His tenure lasted two years, but included an impressive record on the field. However, Franchione bolted for Texas A&M when word arrived about the severe NCAA sanctions. Mike Price was selected to follow Franchione at the Capstone. However, off-the-field issues tarnished Price’s reputation and led to his demise prior to his first season. Price was terminated during the summer, and the University of Alabama conducted a fast search to find a replacement. Former Alabama quarterback Mike Shula was tabbed as to follow Price. Shula lasted four seasons posting horrible to mediocre results during his campaign years of 2003-2006. The 2007 season saw Nick Saban on the sidelines for Alabama. During Saban’s five years, he has won a conference title and a national title.

The time since Paul W. “Bear” Bryant coached at Alabama was one of unique turmoil. When 1990 rolled around, many fans thought the 1980s were about as bad as things would get in Tuscaloosa. The long drought of SEC championships that ran from seven years ended in 1989 under Bill Curry. While that season ended in disappointment and Curry fled to Kentucky, things were looking up for Alabama fans. Unfortunately, things would get worse. The NCAA troubles that visited Tuscaloosa in the 1990s to early 2000s were a combination of issues that centered mainly on mismanagement and arrogance.

What Nick Saban brought to Alabama football was leadership. There was no doubt who was the commander. Saban cannot tolerate meddling. This was of particular benefit at a school where football matters more than anything . Nick Saban attracts more attention than what goes on in Montgomery. It does not seem like speculation to say that more people in this state could identify the Alabama football coach than the governor. By the way, who is the governor? It does not matter the coach, watching Alabama football is the most important spectator sport in this state.

Saban’s ability to handle these distractions of celebrity is an important part of the Alabama success story. Coaches like Gene Stallings allowed outside demands to distract the focus from efforts like recruiting. Mike Dubose let his mind focus on other extracurricular activities, and we all know how the Dubose era ended—with NCAA probation. Nevertheless, Saban has stayed busy in all aspects of the operation.

If there is one major criticism of Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban it has to be the team’s performance in the second half of some games. Three perfect examples are the Alabama-Georgia game in 2008, the Alabama-Texas national championship game at the Rose Bowl in January 2010, and the Iron Bowl loss to Auburn in 2010. Alabama hung on to beat Georgia and Texas, but the games became closer in the second half than it should have been. This is odd since so much of Saban’s emphasis is on good conditioning. If you discount a conditioning problem, which was the reason so many of Mike Shula’s Alabama football teams sucked, then you are left with pointing the finger at either the team’s focus or the coaching philosophy. If a team’s focus slips then you can also point to the coaching staff for allowing that to happen. Saban’s approach puts so much emphasis on player personal responsibility that when players fail to respond bad things can happen—see La. Monroe. Of course, it is hard to argue with Saban’s overall track record with two national championships at two different SEC schools. Saban knows what he is doing. However, it will be interesting to see if Saban’s second half philosophy continues the way it has been, or if the coach pushes harder to put teams away and not allow them back into games.

Bottom Line: Saban is 129-53-1; he has won over 70 percent of all games as a coach. At Alabama, Saban’s record is 43-11. Saban is 36-5 over the last three years at Alabama, or winning almost 90 percent of all games. Saban has two BCS national championships: 2003 LSU and 2009 Alabama. For more about Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban read: The foundation of Nick Saban’s success and 20 Random Things About Alabama’s Nick Saban.