Nick Saban has been the most dominant college football coach since he arrived at Alabama in 2007. In nine years, he's now won four national championships and gone undefeated in title games, with another title before his Tuscaloosa arrival. He also has two BCS bowl berths and two College Football Playoff berths.
That dominance promises to continue, as the Crimson Tide are set up for the future. Alabama has had the No. 1 recruiting class in the country in each of the past five years, and there is no sign of recruiting slowing down.
What did Monday night's national title win mean for Saban's legacy? It meant drawing even closer to legendary coach Bear Bryant, at least in some ways.
That's a lofty claim in Alabama. Bryant is revered beyond comparison in Tuscaloosa, so much so that a reporter asked Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, an Alabama alumnus, if God would have Bryant's voice.
Both took over comparable programs, as the Tide had slipped but still produced AP top-10 finishes in three of the previous 13 seasons before both Saban and Bryant. The two are notably similar in how they approach program-building. Both have statues near Bryant-Denny Stadium, having won national titles.
Given what Saban has accomplished, now more than 30 years after Bryant's death, the comparison seems fair. If Saban is the standard for modern coaches, Bryant is the standard for Alabama coaches.
Here's how Saban's Alabama résumé lines up with Bryant's, with perhaps a few more years left for the 64-year-old current coach:
|Saban at Alabama||Bryant at Alabama|
|Claimed national championships||4||6|
|Percentage of seasons with national championships||44%||24%|
|SEC winning percentage||83%||83%|
Saban is a more consistent champion, arguably in a tougher era.
He has won a national championship nearly every other season. He's never gone more than two years without a title. Bryant had a stretch of seven years without claiming a title, winning championships in a quarter of his seasons.
"Some fans, like myself, think that Saban's 20-year track record (and certainly the past dozen years) already make him at least the equal, and maybe better, than Bryant," Roll 'Bama Roll manager Erik Evans said. "Saban has had to thrive in an era of unprecedented parity, improved competition, scholarship reductions, media scrutiny, and other factors those Silver Age legends did not."
Given the era, what Saban has done might be even more impressive, and not just because "claiming" championships is a thing of the past, thanks to the BCS and Playoff (Bryant's 1964 and 1973 titles are often debated).
During Bryant's day, there was only a handful of programs that could compete nationally.
There weren't major television deals that spread money to entire conferences, so the blue blood programs outpaced everyone else. There were no scholarship limits until 1972 — well into Bryant's tenure — when schools were limited to 105 scholarships, and the limit changed again toward the end of Bryant's tenure, to 95 scholarships in 1978. This essentially allowed top schools to stockpile recruits.
College football is more competitive than it has ever been, and counting his championship at LSU, Saban already has more titles than any other coach — even Tom Osborne and Pete Carroll — since the scholarship limit went to the current number, 85, in 1992.
Saban's a gambler now??
Saban's a gambler now??
However, efficiency isn't the judge of a coach's tenure.
"For now, the Bear vs. Saban is not much of a debate among the fan base, with Paul Bryant still holding the lead (longevity, tenure, SEC titles, national championships, impact on the game)," said Evans. "Most fans, even older ones though, are coming to accept that Saban is nearing Bryant at least in terms of big game performance, coaching tree, impact on the sport, and championships."
Bryant proved he could win consistently in Tuscaloosa, becoming the figurehead of the program for 25 years. He was also an alumnus (Saban's from West Virginia and went to Kent State) and a longtime source of identity for Alabama fans. Just look at the number of books written about him to this day. For those reasons, Saban still has some ground to cover.
Being the best coach in program history means becoming synonymous with the program, and Saban hasn't put that time in yet. Being the GOAT and having the best results are two different things.
A win confirms what we already know, that Saban is one of the best coaches in history and could very well be the best ever. But overtaking Bryant as the Alabama standard is going to take more time, at very least.