ENGSTER: Nick Saban rules as he starts second decade at Bama

By JIM ENGSTER | President, Tiger Rag Magazine

As he starts his eleventh season at Alabama, Nick Saban stands alone at the top of the SEC. A few months shy of his 66th birthday, Saban is a force the conference has not seen since the prime of another Alabama legend, Paul Bear Bryant.

Saban is 119-19 in ten years at Tuscaloosa, 112-13 in the last nine years that have produced four national titles. Bryant won six crowns at Alabama and also made claim to the 1950 national title at Kentucky just as Saban won his first NCAA crown at LSU in 2003.

Nobody short of the Bear has dominated the strongest league in the land the way Saban has in the last decade. Taking away the 7-6 season to start his tenure at Tuscaloosa, Saban is 64-8 in the SEC over the last nine seasons. His record against LSU in that time is 8-2. The Tigers are 47-25 in the conference in the nine seasons since winning the 2007 BCS title.

Since the start of the 21st Century, LSU and Alabama have split 18 games, 9-9. During the same period, Saban’s record in the LSU-Alabama series is 12-4, 4-1 at LSU vs. Alabama and 8-3 at Alabama vs. LSU. In this case, the coach is the difference between which school is in control.

Ed Orgeron has been hired first and foremost to beat Saban. LSU has been here before with Alabama. The Bear was 68-4 in the SEC between 1971 and 1981, whipping LSU eleven straight times. It was Jerry Stovall who finally broke the streak as LSU topped the Tide 20-10 in November of 1982. Two months later, Bryant was dead.

LSU went 12-12-1 vs. Alabama from 1983-2007 before Saban got the upper hand.

The amazing record of Saban is that his ten teams at Alabama have lost only four games by more than a touchdown and nobody has defeated Alabama by more than two touchdowns in a decade.

Nineteen years ago, Saban was a 47-year-old journeyman at Michigan State. In 1998, his Spartans opened the season with a 23-16 loss at home to Colorado State, struggled to a 6-6 record and finished the year with a 51-28 loss at Penn State. If not for an upset of No. 1 Ohio State at Columbus, Saban might have been fired at East Lansing.

A year later, the man from West Virginia was plucked after a 9-2 season from Michigan State by Joe Dean, and the legend began. After four years with the Spartans, Saban’s record at MSU was 25-22-1. In sixteen years as a college coach since then, his record in one year at Michigan State, five seasons at LSU and ten at Alabama is 176-37 with five national championships. He was apparently worth the unheard of sum of $6 million for five years that Chancellor Mark Emmert paid him to move to Baton Rouge.

LSU fans were steamed when Saban left after five years to pilot the Miami Dolphins. They were seeing crimson when Saban was hired at the end of 2006 to coach Bama. Les Miles stoked the fire by bellowing at Bayou Bash, “We have a new rival in fucking Alabama.” The throng at the event reacted with zeal to hear their leader bash his nemesis in such profane terms.

Recently LSU fired a professor for using foul language in the classroom. The standard does not apply to male football coaches who sound off with locker room talk at public events. Only female educators who shouldn’t be using such nasty language get the boot for these kinds of things in the pristine quarters of the Quadrangle.

Miles did beat Saban 41-34 in the Nick’s first season at Alabama. The victory was necessary for LSU to capture SEC and national championships, but since then the 5’6 giant of Tuscaloosa has dominated the rivalry minus a 24-21 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge in 2010 and a 9-6 overtime defeat to his former employer in the Game of the Century at Tuscaloosa in 2011.

Coach Orgeron is 0-2 vs. Saban, but the games have been close. Last year, LSU and Alabama were 0-0 after three quarters before the Tide pulled away to a 10-0 decision at Tiger Stadium. At Ole Miss in 2007, Orgeron was winless in eight SEC games, but narrowly lost to Alabama and Saban 27-24.

Saban did not win his first national championship until he was 52. The process was the same at Toledo and Michigan State and Miami as it has been at LSU and Alabama, but sometimes it takes a good fit for a coach to excel.

Orgeron is in the same position that Saban once was. He is a journeyman with unpleasant head coaching experiences at Ole Miss and USC. LSU is the right place for the charismatic kid from the bayou. We will see if Orgeron comes of age as a head man at 56. It may take a few years, but if LSU fans are patient and will tolerate a few more losses to Alabama, Orgeron could soar at about the time that Saban decides to sail away from the conference that made him the greatest coach in modern time.

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Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

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