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STATS & ANALYSIS

Nick Saban & Alabama: College Football’s Surest Thing

Saban has kept Alabama at the top of college football since 2007. Next week, he goes for national championship No. 7 with the Tide.

When the College Football Playoff national championship game kicks off on Jan. 10, fans will see some familiar faces. For the sixth time in the past seven years and the ninth time since 2009, the Alabama Crimson Tide will play on the final night of the season.

Since Nick Saban took over in 2007, the Tide have become the 90s Yankees or 2000s Patriots of college football — a bona fide dynasty that is expected to not just compete every year, but to win.

Before this year’s SEC Championship game, Boardroom highlighted a couple factors behind the Crimson Tide remaining dominant, including recruiting and athletic department budget. But neither the recruiting nor the investment would be where they are today without Saban. He’s as synonymous with the university as anyone, and the relationship between him and the school is mutually beneficial.

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Saban at Alabama

  • Overall record: 178-24 (13-1 in 2021)
  • Playoff appearances: 7 (8-3 overall record)
  • National championships: 6
  • SEC Championships: 10
  • AP Coach of the Year awards: 2

Roll Tide, Roll

SEC teams have hired 50 head coaches (as of Jan 2021) since Saban began at Alabama.

Consistency is a pillar of greatness, and in a business where coaches come and go, Saban is the longest-tenured coach in the SEC. Longevity is difficult to manufacture and sustain in sports, where even the best teams have limited championship windows. Saban and Alabama have been together for 15 seasons, while countless other once-successful coach-university marriages have ended in negotiated buyouts followed by pricey pursuits of a replacement. Consider fellow marquee SEC school LSU, which paid former head coach Ed Ogeron $17 million in a buyout, then hired Brian Kelly away from Notre Dame by paying him $9.5 million a year. This doesn’t factor in incentives and bonuses that Kelly may accrue if he is as successful as LSU hopes him to be.

Other schools, even the other high-profile programs, have been searching for what Alabama found in Saban. Compared to a program like Oklahoma, which sustained some success but couldn’t capture the national title, or a program like Texas that has cycled through a handful of coaches in order to return to national glory, Alabama has enjoyed unprecedented success without having to endure the dysfunction of constant turnover or the disappointment of being, “good but not good enough.” Sure, Alabama has not won every national or even conference title since Saban has been there. But Saban has had way more success in the SEC than the likes of Urban Meyer, Mark Richt and Les Miles. Just being a great coach isn’t enough. Just having the resources isn’t enough. Just having the players isn’t enough. It all combines to keep the Crimson Tide rolling.

Be the Best, Get Paid the Best

Nick Saban signed an 8-year, $84.8 million deal, but that’s not the most interesting part of his contract.

The University of Alabama pays Saban a lot of money to be its football coach. He is the highest-paid employee in the State of Alabama, like most college football coaches are in their respective states. Most contracts come with incentives and bonuses fit for the party involved that are based around meeting goals and exceeding expectations. But only Saban has a clause in his contract that is this individually beneficial. Saban has it written in his contract that he must be the highest-paid head coach in the country. And should someone — like Michigan State’s Mel Tucker or the aforementioned Kelly — be hired with a salary that eclipses his, Saban will automatically have his yearly salary jump to surpass that.

Saban’s success shows beyond simple wins, losses, and even championships. Members of his coaching staff go on to other places and become head coaches of their own programs. Yet Saban is 25-1 against teams led by his former assistants, with the lone defeat coming this past October against Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M. It’s as if he has an additional clause in his contract that asserts that no matter how well another coach does, that coach cannot be better than him.

Saban has also won 35 straight games against coaches he’s faced for the first time. Yes, the players on the field are the ones who most determine the outcome of the games, but leadership helps provide the stability needed for greatness to blossom. This year, Alabama has the Heisman Trophy winner (quarterback Bryce Young), the Bronko Nagurski Award winner (linebacker Will Anderson Jr.), and three other AP All-Americans.

Alabama certainly gets a good portion of the best players, consistently having one of the best recruiting classes since Saban has been there. But greatness, when handled properly, can lead to more greatness, and Saban is the one unchanging factor.

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