As is the case every single season when the Ole Miss Rebels are about to face off against the Crimson Tide, the traditions, the narratives and the hatred are at the forefront. As “Bama Hate Week” turns into Bama game day, we’ve heard everything we could have possibly heard about the matchup. From nasty sheet signs aimed at Nick Saban and his family to Tide fans incessantly touting the 66-3 scoreline from last season over Rebel fans, it is quite a week to be a college football fan.
Among the madness, there is but one sentence that few have been brave enough to say: Nick Saban is an overrated head coach. Stay with me. I am perfectly willing to admit that Alabama would not have gotten to where they are currently without Saban’s tremendous recruiting talents that resulted in him having a dominant football team early in his career. What I am not willing to say, however, is anything that would make it sound like Saban is even close to being the greatest college football coach to ever live.
In the 2006 season, the Crimson Tide went 6-6 in the regular season before losing to Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl. Because of infractions that were investigated three years down the road, those six wins were vacated, which set Alabama’s official record that year at an astounding 0-7.
Enter Nick Saban. In his 2007 debut season at Alabama, he finished the regular season at 6-6 and ended on a bowl-game win while achieving the No. 11 recruiting class in the country. This is where things got crazy, and they have yet to stop, 11 years later.
The following season, Saban’s Crimson Tide had an undefeated regular season followed by an SEC Championship loss to 2008 National Champions Florida as well as a loss to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. Saban then brought in the top recruiting class in the nation, taking the Tide to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time since 1980.
Fast forward to today. The unprecedented success that Alabama saw almost immediately upon Saban’s arrival created a machine that the rest of the nation has yet to figure out how to stop. Saban had an incredible streak of recruiting that turned a mediocre team into a team that, for many years now, has required very minimal coaching.
Following the arrival of his first No. 1 overall recruiting class, Saban won his first of five national championships at Alabama. The machine was running. Now, he didn’t even need to recruit. Everybody wanted to play for the national champions. Saban’s early recruiting created a system in which the best players in the nation showed up on the Alabama campus, won games and titles, got drafted into the NFL and left a spot for the next round of the nation’s top recruits to take over.
With this in mind, five national titles really does not seem like enough in an 11-year period. Every season in recent memory, the Tide has had a national championship-or-bust mentality. If Saban were as good at being a head coach as he is at recruiting, Alabama would have won the national title on a yearly basis. But he isn’t.
I would equate the case of Nick Saban to a hypothetical scenario in which Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are given the first 10 picks in the NFL Draft every time they win the Super Bowl. Belichick would have won the Super Bowl every single year if this were the case, because he is a better football coach, by leaps and bounds.
Nick Saban is the head coach of a football team that feeds itself top recruits every single season and then gets on the field requiring very little direction. Saban has found a way, even with these circumstances, to not win the national championship every season. He is an extremely talented recruiter, but he is an extremely overrated head coach — hence his utter failures when attempting to coach at the NFL level, where recruiting as a skill is null.