Mike Strange: As Tide rolls on, has Nick Saban surpassed Bear Bryant?

Mike Strange
Alabama coach Nick Saban speaks during the Southeastern Conference football media days in Hoover, Ala., Thursday July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt) MAGS OUT

Photo by VASHA HUNT

Alabama coach Nick Saban speaks during the Southeastern Conference football media days in Hoover, Ala., Thursday July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt) MAGS OUT

HOOVER, Ala. — He drives to work on Paul Bryant Drive. He wins games in Bryant-Denny Stadium. And yet he already has his own statue outside that stadium.

In six years, Nick Saban has achieved the unthinkable. He has forced a dialogue as to who is Alabama’s greatest football coach.

Paul “Bear” Bryant coached for 25 years at his alma mater. “Mama” called him home in 1958 to clean up a mess. He retired after the 1982 season with six national titles on the trophy shelf. No one towered over the landscape of Southern football like the Bear.

Steve Spurrier rocked hard at Florida in the 1990s, at least on the SEC level. But in the bigger picture, Spurrier’s work pales next to Saban.

Alabama wasn’t Saban’s “Mama,” but it called him away from the Miami Dolphins to clean up another mess in 2007. Saban was happy to oblige and get back to college football, where he had won a national title at LSU in 2003.

Six years later there is a statue. Oh, and three national titles in the past four years.

It’s hard to imagine Alabama football ever being on a higher pedestal than it is today. The Tide is even the preseason pick to win it all again in 2013.

Saban, a youngish and fit 61, made the rounds Thursday at SEC Media Days, a 10-ring circus that Bryant, who died in 1983, could not have imagined.

To get to the media, Saban had to negotiate a “Roll Tide” chanting crowd roped off in the hotel lobby. His expression suggested he’d rather be in a dark room breaking down videotape of Texas A&M.

In the middle of that crowd, several middle-aged men were studiously comparing notes on their respective Alabama championship T-shirts.

Here’s what Gary from Mobile told me:

“If Coach Bryant were alive today and you asked him, ‘Who’s the best football coach you’ve ever had?’ He would tell you, the guy there now.

Video from YouTube

“And I’m a Bryant fan from ’58.’’

Paul from Hartselle, Ala., equivocated a bit:

“Well, I admired Coach Bryant growing up and he was the best in his time, Nick is there now. He’s where Bear Bryant was in his heyday. And I love ’em both. I’m glad they both came to Alabama.’’

Paul’s grandson, he noted, is named Paul Bryant Sibley. Who’s to say his great-grandson won’t be named Nick Saban Sibley.

Bryant was 50-10-5 in his first six years at Alabama. He had one national title, with two more just around the bend.

Saban is 68-11 with those three crystal footballs. By this point no one remembers that loss to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007. They do remember six consecutive wins over Tennessee.

It’s probably harder to win a title now than it was in Bryant’s day. More schools — especially in the SEC — commit more

resources to the pursuit. Bryant benefitted from unlimited scholarships. He could stockpile talent on the Alabama bench that today would be playing at LSU or Auburn.

All of which makes Saban’s record even more impressive. But the last guy who wants to open that can of worms is Nick Saban.

“I don’t think I have any reason that anybody should do that,’’ he said. “Bear Bryant is probably the greatest coach in college football in terms of what he accomplished, what his legacy is.

“I don’t think it would be fair that anyone really be compared to what he was able to accomplish, the way he did it, and how he impacted other people.’’

As another southerner, William Faulkner, said, the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past. That has always rung true with Alabama football.

Bryant’s presence has remained inescapable in Tuscaloosa, on campus, especially at Alabama games. During the lean years of the early 21st Century, it almost seemed creepy to outsiders. As if, the faithful were hoping for a resurrection.

It finally came. He just doesn’t wear a houndstooth hat.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2013 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 16

NashvillePreds writes:

Rommel or Yamamoto?
Both competent adversaries, & both enemies.
No one in Tennessee cares who our enemy values above the other. Both must be vanquished.

Rise to the Top
Go Vols

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

If Saban pulls off a 3 peat that would be hard to ignore. The difference between the two is recruiting is very different now than in the 60's and 70's..Iam certain Bear never had a class with 4 top#15 RBs or year in and year out had 3 or 4 first round picks on his defensive AND offensive line..Saban is working with the very best talent in the nation as soon as they step on campus. Bear took good players and made them great and that is why he is a better coach. Johnny Musso is a good example. Johnny didn't have the speed or natural ability as Trent Richardson but he meant as much or more to the success of his team and has done more for Bama football then Richardson could ever dream

CrankE writes:

One Bammer compared Coach Nixon Saban to Hitler as a compliment.

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/ncaaf-d...

Yeah, that whole Updyke and Downing thing is just a fluke . . .

The1 writes:

Saban may not be the better man, but he is accomplishing more, so far, under more difficult circumstances (more limitations and competition) than Bryant faced.

MetroplexMojo writes:

While the Bear will coach more games at Bama than Saban, the Bear is simply not in Saban's league during Saban's prime for the following reasons.

1. The SEC is much harder today than during the time of the Bear. See the rise of Florida, Georgia, and LSU since the Bear retired.

2. Much more parity in college football with 85 schollys.

3. Of the last 7 BCS titles decided while Saban was coaching in college, he has won 4, recruited the players for another (07 LSU) and lost to the eventual national champs the other two times.

4. Bear did not become the top dog until Neyland retired and never beat the General. Saban vanquished his main rival (Meyer) in humiliating fashion.

The Bear may be the bigger icon but Saban is the much better coach.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to MetroplexMojo:

While the Bear will coach more games at Bama than Saban, the Bear is simply not in Saban's league during Saban's prime for the following reasons.

1. The SEC is much harder today than during the time of the Bear. See the rise of Florida, Georgia, and LSU since the Bear retired.

2. Much more parity in college football with 85 schollys.

3. Of the last 7 BCS titles decided while Saban was coaching in college, he has won 4, recruited the players for another (07 LSU) and lost to the eventual national champs the other two times.

4. Bear did not become the top dog until Neyland retired and never beat the General. Saban vanquished his main rival (Meyer) in humiliating fashion.

The Bear may be the bigger icon but Saban is the much better coach.

Exactly, Saban has accomplished this incredible run without violating the scholarship rules created from Bear Bryant's disregard for NCAA rules. Bama can't sign 100 4* athletes and park them on the bench like Bear used to do. I'm certain that no other CFB coach (especially coming off of severe sanctions) has ever come close to what Saban is currently doing.

maxvolfan#217855 writes:

Saban will never do what 'The Bear' has done. Saban just got all the good players, Bryant man average players believe they were unbeatable.

brod writes:

Being compared to Bear Bryant...not bad company. Bear didn't make the equivalent of 4.5 million a year, not even close. Alabama changed the landscape of college football when the gave Saban the huge offer. Must give them credit, they did what they had to do to get back to prominence. Now they have went from prominence to dominance.

VolzsFan writes:

The winningest Coaches in SEC History

Bryant
160-46-9 215 games

Spurrier
122-41 163 games

Vaught
106-39-10 155 games

Dooley
104-42-4 150 games

Neyland
103-17-10 130 games

Fulmer
98-34 132 games

Had Fulmer not been railroaded, he would be battling Spurrier for second. In fact, he would be second because USC would not have had all those wins with him still in place.

VolzsFan writes:

I will not be back at the stadium on Phillip Fulmer Way (and many others apparently either) until there is a statue erected for our Hall of Famer as it should have already been done.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to VolzsFan:

I will not be back at the stadium on Phillip Fulmer Way (and many others apparently either) until there is a statue erected for our Hall of Famer as it should have already been done.

They already erected a statue of Phillip in front of Shoney's.

stevefrommemphis writes:

Saban wouldn't have to negotiate a phalanx of white trash if the SEC would move the Media Days out of Hoover, Alabama, like Mike Slive said he was going to do years ago.

Sir_Spanky writes:

Amen! And those trailor-park types will cut you too. Gotta be careful.

bigdisbig writes:

Question is: Could Bryant deal with all the attitudes, tattoos, character issues, drug and alcohol issues and alumni issues the coaches today must face? I think not. Bryant would struggle in today's society.

Saban_Palin writes:

At least Tenn was #1 in recruiting for a couple of days.

chattabluetick writes:

Fortunately for the "Bear" that Neyland was in military many years or Bryant would trail him conference wins. Neyland winning percentage better than all others on list.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features