More fool me, I gave up on Alabama football when Mike Shula limped out of town and the Tide went through the foolishness of dancing around RichRod for a month before wildly overpaying for a floundering NFL coach who’d won a title at LSU a few years earlier. And I thought that even if he did have a ring, hell, I’m not sure Bear Bryant was worth $4 million a year.
Well don’t I feel like a jackass.
Six national championships, the same as the Bear, and in fewer seasons. Four Heisman trophy winners, where previously there were none. At all. The first 14-win season, the first 15-win season, and most importantly, success in an era unlike anything the Bear ever had to deal with: 24/7 sports talk radio, social media, a conference title game and then a four-team playoff (fully half the Bear’s championships were awarded before the bowl game!), and recruiting 365 days a year with the kind of scholarship limitations and NCAA scrutiny that simply didn’t exist before the 1980s.
Saban did it with recruiting, obviously: schematic advantage is nice but if you can put 20 new five-star players on the roster every year, talent will eat schematic advantage alive. Not that they couldn’t scheme; Alabama started off with the man-ball Neanderthal smashmouth game and when the spread-hurry came in he asked “is this what we want football to be?” and tacitly answers “aight, bet” before turning Alabama into a lightning offensive powerhouse. Much like the Bear – and in a decade less time – he pivoted his entire philosophy and won just as much with the new one as the old.
And to be honest, that’s probably a big part of why he’s getting out now. Starting next year, it’s going to be a longer road yet to a title – a 12 team playoff, meaning possibly 16 games to a finish, which puts you where the NFL was for years. And speaking of the NFL, the players get paid now, but there are no multi-year contracts, no salary cap, no cost containment or long-term certainty, and now you have to re-recruit your entire roster every year and hope that you can poach more from everyone else than they’re poaching from you. And while Bama spent wildly on the things you could legally spend on – assistant coaches, facilities, equipment, stadium improvements – now there’s an entire new level of spending required, which means more fundraising and glad-handing boosters and activity that takes away from the recruiting and game day prep and actual coaching to win those now-16 games.
College football shifted hard and broke something in the BCS-CFP era. The game in 1991 was very different from where we got to by 2014, never mind now, and at some point, when you have your own Crimson Infinity Gauntlet, what more do you possibly have to prove at age 72? It’s time to call it a day. Bear was three years dead by your age.
Have a Coke and a Little Debbie and hit some unsuspecting kid at the Publix with a Deez Nuts joke, Coach. You’ve earned it.