Alabama head coach Nick Saban
After the first four games this year, much is being written about the Tide's potential to have a very special year. And while 'Bama fans have reveled in the team's success on the field this year, the "big picture" questions are coming into focus now, and they beg for answers and analysis.
When the 2008 edition of The Crimson Tide took the field against Clemson, hopes were high. The team has endured a year of "the process" in coach Nick Saban's system, yet there were some doubts as to whether a coach, even one as masterful as Saban, could trigger such a massive turnaround in year two of his tenure.
As the season progressed, the Alabama faithful began to believe, for the first time in many years, that the Tide was making strides to regain its place among the nations elite programs. While the crushing loss to Florida in the SEC Championship Game, as well as the embarrassing loss to Utah in the Sugar Bowl did not diminish the accomplishments of a fine season, there was a shadow of a doubt, at least in this person's mind, as to whether or not the 2009 edition could live up to the expectations created a year earlier.
Here are a few questions which come to mind:
Is Alabama now considered to be on-par with programs such as Florida, Texas, LSU, Oklahoma and USC?
The answer is a solid "yes" for two reasons. With the addition of back-to-back stellar recruiting classes, everyone knew there was young talent available. However, even two top classes doesn't guarantee a team elite status. The wild card in this scenario was whether or not the current players on scholarship could be developed into winning SEC talent.
In my opinion, one of the most impressive characteristics of this staff is its ability to develop talent. Under Saban's watch, players like Javier Arenas have thrived. Arenas has always been a dangerous return man, but his skills as a cornerback now rank him among the top five in the country at his position.
Additionally, players like Justin Woodall, Roy Upchurch, Cory Reamer, Brandon Deaderick, Eryk Anders and Lorenzo Washington have worked hard and realized their potential under Saban. The emergence of Greg McElroy speaks volumes for Saban's skills, as well as the coaching acumen of offensive coordinator Jim McElwain.
If you believe Saban is only a great recruiter, and dismiss the abilities of him and his staff as superb developers of talent, do so at your own risk.
Who will be the "power teams" for the next five to ten years in the SEC?
Assuming Alabama keeps signing top recruiting classes, the Crimson Tide is building the foundation to dominate the SEC much the way LSU and Florida have for nearly the past decade. Even Coach Saban knows he isn't going to win the SEC title every year (or does he?), but don't be surprised to see Alabama favored to win the western division, and the SEC title, in four of the next five years, and seven of the next ten, assuming Saban stays for the majority of his contract.
Sheer talent and coaching should dictate that Alabama will also remain in the discussion for the national title each year for the foreseeable future.
What is Saban's legacy at Alabama?
A popular and ongoing topic of conversation among rival fans is the length of time Nick Saban will remain at Alabama. Only one person knows the answer to this question, and that is Saban himself. Recently, he re-stated his intentions to retire from his current job, saying there are no new horizons for him.
Alabama fans should take great comfort from this, as he has never, at any of his previous coaching stops, openly stated his intention to retire from any of them. Assuming that he does retire from Alabama and claims the Tide's 13th national championship, his tenure would firmly cement him second only to Bryant.
Nick Saban has single-handedly changed the entire football culture in the state. Saban is a man who has become comfortable in his own skin at Alabama. He has embraced its rich tradition, and is determined to become the only major college coach to win a national title at two major schools. Simply put, he has positioned himself to accomplish achievements at Alabama that he can't accomplish anywhere else.
I was fortunate enough to witness the Bryant-led teams from the early '70s until his retirement. And while I am quick to acknowledge that there will never be another team that will dominate a decade the way Alabama did in the 1970's, I can say that I am beginning to see similar characteristics in the way Saban's teams are coached, prepared and perceived.
With sincere respect to Coach Gene Stallings, Nick Saban is the best coaching hire since Paul Bryant.
Nick Saban has exercised full and complete control over this program, working tirelessly to recruit, expand facilities and strengthen the national brand that is Alabama football. He stalks the sidelines aware of the great men who have coached the Tide before him. He sees the great monuments Alabama has built to honor its legendary leaders, and he wants to be a part of that legacy.
While many have wilted in the shadow of Bryant, Saban is the singular individual with enough fortitude to thrive in this situation and write his own chapter in Alabama football lore.
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