A lot of college fans do not like Nick Saban, especially if he coaches against the team you love. Some feel that he ran out on LSU for the NFL and all the money that came with it. (When he took the Alabama job LSU fans went into a frenzy, for a very good reason. They know, deep inside, the ability Saban has to beat them.) Others see him as a four-year hire and then he's gone. "Liar, liar, pants on fire . . . "
Michigan State, where Saban coached before LSU, would take him back in a heartbeat. He is the only coach at MSU since the famed Duffy Daugherty to beat Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame all in the same season. And when LSU was in the dumps, losing year-in and year-out, Saban breathed life into the program and won a national title in four years. But when he went to the Miami Dolphins many fans blasted him for that choice. After only two years in the pros Saban, and his wife, longed to be back in a college town and in the college scene. The job that wanted him, indeed that hunted him down day-and-night for well over two months, was at Alabama. The Athletic Director, Mal Moore, knew he had to get a proven winner. No more experiments with "potentially great" coaches would do for the storied tradition that had drawn the ire of ESPN and many other fans around the nation that routinely made fun of the Tide. So after a long private back-and-forth through an agent Bama had their man signed in early January, 2007.
Saban had to face a huge problem at Alabama. The expectations were immense. But he welcomed that. He inherited a team that was not disciplined and last year 15 different players had various problems with the law and the university. They struggled to play as a team but the coach put his mark on them in the final game, a win over Colorado in the fairly unimpressive Independence Bowl. By the spring of this year Saban had his own team and with the number one recruiting class in the nation in 2008 he had some fresh talent as well.
What followed is nothing short of amazing. From unranked in the pre-season (most said they would be lucky to win 8 games) them quickly moved to No. 2 and then to No. 1 for most of the season. The Tide went 12-0. They lost to a better Florida team in the SEC Championship but they played very well. Now they face Utah, a pesky bunch who could win, on Friday night in the Sugar Bowl. A win would make this a magical "rebuilding" season, a year to remember. The players know this all too well. Better things are on the horizon, or so it seems right now.
For all of this Nick Saban was voted the AP Coach of the Year last week. The honor was deserved if you know what he had to do and how far he went with the team he had when he got to Tuscaloosa. Ever the driven perfectionist Saban is the definition of a true winner. He is not liked by everyone but he doesn't seem to care that much. His demeanor is all business and lip-readers can tell when they see a Bama game that he is pretty tough. But he is respected by his players and committed to them as young men. If he reaches the goal, a national championship at Alabama, he will become the first coach to ever do it at two different schools.
I have a sticker on my door that says: S--The Coach. I also have a shirt my sister-in-law gave me that has on the front "Sabanation." On the back it has an outline of the state of Alabama and says, "First the state, and then the nation!" This year Alabama took back the state, thrashing Auburn 36-0. Next stop: A national title game. It will not be this year but it will likely be sooner than some expected. Never count Saban out. This man can recruit and he can coach, like him or not.