COLUMN: HOOVER, Ala. — Only Alabama football coach Nick Saban could be compared to Bear Bryant and Adolf Hitler at the same day at the same event. As SEC Media Days wrapped up Thursday at the Wynfrey Hotel, the crowd in the lobby hit a three-day high as Crimson Tide fans stood on top of each other in the hopes of just seeing Saban or quarterback A.J. McCarron.
Saban, the coach that has led the Crimson Tide to back-to-back BCS National Championships and three overall, was one of the final four coaches to appear on the docket Thursday and, like they have since he got to Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide fans rolled out the red carpet in the hopes of getting his autograph or giving him gifts.
A level above the crowd, Saban was asked what he thought about being compared to Bryant, the legendary Alabama coach who won six national championships and was the only coach prior to Saban to win consecutive national titles at Alabama. Of course Saban didn’t think there was any reason for anybody to compare him to such a legend, who won 323 games total in his career, including 234 at Alabama.
“I think Bear Bryant is probably the greatest coach in college football in terms of what he accomplished, what his legacy is. I think the biggest thing that impacts me is how many lives he affected in a positive way, players that played for him, because they all come back and say how he affected their lives. They don’t come back and say, we won a championship in ‘78, ‘79, ‘61, whenever it was. They come back and say how he affected their lives,” Saban said. “There’s a lot of Bear Bryant stories that I’ve learned a lot from, that have made me a better person. I certainly appreciate that, have a tremendous amount of respect for what he accomplished. There’s no way that we have done anything close to what he’s done in terms of his consistency over time, how he changed what he did to impact the times.
“They threw the ball and won. They ran the wishbone and won. I mean, he changed tremendously to do what he needed to do to be successful. I don’t think that 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.”
The reference to Hitler came from one of the many Alabama fans in the lobby. In a column written by Al.com’s Jon Solomon, Lee Allen of Decatur said this about Saban: “He’s a winner, he just does what he wants to do. He’s kind of like Hitler. He’s a dictator. He brought us back to the top and I figure we’re going to be here for a while. Money well spent.”
For the record, I didn’t hear a reporter ask Saban if he thought he had similar characteristics of Hitler. Nor do I think he would ever answer such a question if it was asked. Allen’s quote to Solomon was very far from being the smartest comparison made, obviously, but the feeling he has instilled in the Crimson Tide fan base for Allen to even utter such a quote is valid.
Like his style or not, Saban wins and he wins on his terms. His plan, his system, the attention to detail, is second to none. He credited several of his former mentors and coaches such as Don James and Bill Belichick during his time at the podium Thursday. James was a very successful coach at Washington and other stops while Belichick has won three Super Bowl titles.
There’s no doubt some of the things those two did to be successful is what Saban still does but he’s placed his own stamp on things over the years and his model of success is now being imitated more than any other coach in college football right now.
Alabama was picked to win yet another SEC title this year by the SEC media. That’s also not a shock considering how much talent returns from a team that thrashed Notre Dame in the title game. The schedule is quite favorable for the Crimson Tide, who play Tennessee and Kentucky from the East, have an off week before the A&M game and get others such as Ole Miss and LSU at home.
It’s hard not to believe that the Crimson Tide won’t be a factor in the national title talk at the end of the year and all of that is due to Saban. He hired the assistants who recruited the players who ultimately allow Saban’s system to work. If the Crimson Tide do end up winning a third straight national title, Saban’s comparison to Bryant will only grow. It will be impossible for Saban to surpass Bryant’s win total at Alabama, but another national title, or two, will almost certainly allow him to be considered a legend, right next to Bryant. (July 19, 2013, Page 6A)