116 wins, 29 loses, five SEC titles, four BCS National Championships and not one losing season — this is the resume of Nick Saban since he entered the SEC and started his run of college football dominance in 2000, with the exception of his two season stint with the Miami Dolphins. The way Saban has marched through the most difficult conference in football, especially since taking the reins of the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2007, is incredible and rivaling only the unprecedented. In fact, no coach has ever won three national titles in consecutive seasons and Saban is looking to be the first to do so this year. He has taken on all challengers on the biggest stage and embarrassed some of college football’s proudest programs (If you listen carefully you can still hear Manti Te’O whiffing the tackle on another Alabama ball carrier). Why then, with everything going so well, does something seem to be bothering the reigning emperor of college football?
Saban has been publically outspoken against the trend of constantly high tempo offenses who run up to 80 or 90 plays in a game and never stop huddle and who rarely substitute. He has claimed he is worried about player safety in regards to the added stress of extra plays. There is no evidence to show that this type of offense causes any more injuries on either side of the ball — other than the common conception that if you run more plays naturally more hits are going to be given and taken.
Saban has also publically asked the question, “Is this what we want football to be?” More people are watching college football than ever on TV, attendances are at all time highs, and revenues are skyrocketing with increase every year. Considering top players are flocking to programs that run these exciting and diverse attacks, and fans are tuning it for it, it seems to be a unanimous ‘yes’ to Saban’s question.
The coach is a very smart man. He wouldn’t be in the position he’s in if he wasn’t. Saban knows all of what is being said and what has been studied about the game and its health risks and certainly doesn’t need to turn to the media for answers.
Nick Saban is scared.
It is likely that Saban has finally found the one thing besides his own retirement and nuclear war that could put an end to his historic run, the breakneck speed and execution of the no-huddle, hurry-up spread-style offenses that have taken the sport by storm over the last ten years. This nightmare started for Saban in 2010 when Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers with a new fast paced, dizzying offense under the tutelage of then offensive coordinator and now head coach Gus Malzahn erased a 24 point deficit in just over a half to beat Alabama to earn the right to go to the SEC title game and eventually win the 2010 BCS National Championship. Fast forward almost two years to November 10th 2012 when conference new comer and expected punching bag, Texas A&M came into Tuscaloosa. With them, they brought a high flying offense built on speed, tempo, and execution and a highly touted 6 foot, 200 lb freshman QB whom Alabama was surely going to put in his place, right? Wrong. In casual terms, the freshman balled out. Johnny “Football” Manziel passed for 253 yards and two scores and added another 92 defender dodging yards on the ground on his way to becoming Johnny Heisman before the night was out.
It’s difficult to blame Saban for wanting the spread gone as it seems to have become the only chink in his crimson armor. There is not a team in the college ranks any given year that could line up and go punch for punch with the Tide. They have the biggest and best recruits and the best coach this — and maybe any — generation has ever seen. Rather than trying to beat their helmets against a brick wall looking for a soft spot, smart men in the sport are looking for ways around that wall, and slowly they are finding those ways.
If Nick Saban’s run atop the college football world is to come to an end this will be how it’s done, and the coach knows it. Unfortunately for Saban, this is the 21st century and these “hair on fire” style offenses are here to stay. The choices are to accept the reality, adapt the way he coaches his defenses, and take his place at the table with the greatest of all time or stay the course and slowly fall back to earth as other top programs begin surpass Alabama sooner rather than later.