ENGSTER: Nick Saban dominates SEC gatherings

By JIM ENGSTER
President, Tiger Rag Magazine

A few years ago, a public bathroom at the SEC preseason cattle call was cleared so Alabama’s imperial leader could relieve himself in privacy. Nick Saban reigns as the Donald Trump of the SEC. A stable of 16 Republican candidates for President of the United States faded amid the media frenzy that accompanies Trump. Thirteen conference coaches are similar afterthoughts to the entourage of handlers and media types on the trail of the man in Tuscaloosa. When a coach wins 99 of his last 111 games, SEC preseason meetings are mostly about the mighty Nicholas Lou Saban.

With five national championships in his last eleven years on the college sidelines, Saban has crafted a mystique reserved for heads of state, film stars and music legends. LSU followers hope this is the year that Saban is served a large plate of humility. His “rebuilding” Crimson Tide team is the defending national champion but must go through Baton Rouge to win another crown. Only once has an Alabama unit coached by Saban captured a national title in a year in which the Tide visited Death Valley.

Bama faced LSU at Tuscaloosa in the championship years of 2009, 2011, and 2015. In 2012, Saban and Co. escaped Baton Rouge with a narrow 21-17 victory on the way to another BCS trophy. Alabama has defeated LSU five straight times and hasn’t lost in Louisiana to LSU since a 24-21 setback on Nov. 6, 2010. LSU is currently favored to whip the Tide on Nov. 5th, but the Saban magic is enough to make any Tiger fan wary.

The clash on Nov. 5 will be Saban’s first test after becoming Medicare eligible. The iconic man who stands 5-foot-6 turns 65 on Halloween and will officially be a senior citizen of five days when his club invades Bayou Country. The contest is slated three days before the presidential election. It’s a given that few of the patrons in Tiger Stadium will be focusing on the Trump vs. Clinton showdown on the first Saturday in November.

The attention will be on Les Miles and his celebrated counterpart, who not so long ago became famous in Louisiana. Saban is the best compensated coach in the college football ranks, and Miles is also a multi-millionaire. Together, they will earn a base salary that is amazingly lower than a fellow named Solomon Hill.

Hill is a 25-year-old small forward who recently signed a free agent contract with the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans worth $48 million over four years. Hill started three games for the Indianapolis Pacers this season, averaging 4.2 points and 2.8 rebound per contest. Pelicans’ owner Tom Benson is known for his frugality, but he has opened his vault for a player with a slim resume.

Using the Hill standard for sports figures, Saban and Miles are woefully underpaid. Raises may be in order for the two most successful coaches currently employed in the SEC.

Time to retire No. 35

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Pete Maravich have more than a few things in common. The two LSU guards electrified the SEC like no players before or since. Maravich holds the NCAA scoring record for a sophomore, junior and senior while Abdul-Rauf is the top freshman scorer in the history of the collegiate game.

Both men have been banned from the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame because neither graduated from a university of higher learning. As noted in previous columns, Joe Adcock, Frank Brian, Alvin Dark and Slats Hardin also failed to graduate from college and yet are members of the LSU shrine.

Abdul-Rauf converted to Islam and changed his name after leaving LSU where he was known as Chris Wayne Jackson. He is almost universally recognized as one of the top five players in LSU along with Maravich, Shaquille O’Neal, Bob Pettit and Rudy Macklin.

The others have had their numbers retired by LSU. Jackson’s No. 35 has not been retired much to the chagrin of his coach. Dale Brown says Jackson is one of the two best players he coached at any level. The backcourt sensation left LSU after two seasons in which he scored 1,854 points. If he had stayed for four years and scored at the same clip, Jackson would have accumulated 3,708 points, 41 more than the NCAA record of 3,667 held by Pistol Pete.

In a column by ESPN’s Bomani Jones, Jackson was ranked as the best ever college basketball freshman.

  1. Chris Jackson LSU
  2. Magic Johnson Michigan State
  3. Ralph Sampson Virginia
  4. Carmelo Anthony Syracuse
  5. Patrick Ewing Georgetown
  6. Wayman Tisdale Oklahoma
  7. Kenny Anderson Georgia Tech
  8. Shaquille O’Neal LSU
  9. Pervis Ellison Louisville
  10. Tyler Hansbrough North Carolina

Jones sized up the gifted gunner from Gulfport in this way.

Not since Pete Maravich had the SEC seen a scorer as lethal as Jackson, and never has there been a better scorer as a freshman. The Gulfport, Miss. native was so quick that he rarely needed a move more flashy than a dribble between his legs, which would be followed either by a quick dart into the lane or an unstoppable jump shot. Along with earning first-team All-SEC and first-team All-American honors in 1989, Jackson became the first freshman named SEC Player of the Year. He holds the NCAA record for points per game by a freshman, a mark unlikely to be broken any time soon.

Almost 27 years since Jackson mesmerized the league, his uncommon talent is evidenced by the number of people who continue to buzz about the wizard from LSU. His NBA career unfortunately is remembered more for him sitting during the playing of the national anthem than for being the most accurate free throw shooter the league has produced.

Jackson’s contributions at the PMAC are immense enough for him to be accorded the honor bestowed to Maravich, O’Neal, Pettit and Macklin. No. 35 should also hang in the arena that Jackson captivated for two sensational seasons.

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