Why is Bama so feared? Because its coach scares us to death

The Saban worshipers queue up in the Wynfrey Hotel. (Photo by M. Bradley)

The cult of Nick congregates in the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Hoover, Ala. – Alabama was the choice of the assembled media here to win the 2011 SEC championship, which was no shock. Everybody exalts Alabama nowadays. It was in January 2010, after the Crimson Tide won the first of what would be one consecutive BCS title, that Sports Illustrated proclaimed it “a dynasty,” and it was only last fall we were wondering if  Bama was unbeatable.

Then it lost to South Carolina, to LSU and to Auburn (after leading 24-0 in Tuscaloosa), and suddenly we media folks were grasping: How did the program newly seen as the nation’s flagship finish in the bottom half of the SEC West? Didn’t another school from Alabama take the BCS title? Was it possible the dynastic Tide had been overblown?

Guess not. Because we media types are doing it again. The Tide figures to start the season ranked no worse than No. 2 (behind Oklahoma and nobody else) in the polls, and in the conference-sanctioned balloting for SEC champ it drew 62.4 percent of the 157 votes cast. This despite losing four first-round NFL draftees (Marcell Dareus, Julio Jones, James Carpenter and Mark Ingram) and starting quarterback Greg McElroy.

Asked Friday about this apparent incongruity, Alabama’s coach said: “From a logical standpoint, I know there’s a couple other teams in our division — forget about the league — that have just as many returning starters and their quarterback. So even though [sarcasm alert] I have a tremendous amount of respect for the intelligence level and your ability to prognosticate … I don’t understand how you come to the decisions you do.”

The answer, this correspondent of limited intellect would submit, has to do with Alabama’s coach. Nick Saban is considered the best collegiate coach now working by as great a distance as Dwight Howard is regarded as the NBA’s top center. Saban has won BCS titles at different SEC outposts, which proved his black magic was transferable. And it isn’t so much that folks believe Saban is smarter than everyone else but that we know he’ll work his 30-hour days until he figures things out.

Alabama fans are difficult to please — a guy bearing an ursine nickname won pretty big in Tuscaloosa — but they’ve venerated Saban from the moment he arrived. Indeed, a cult of personality has arisen around this coach, and that’s something you don’t often see in SEC football. There was one surrounding Paul W. Bryant and also about Steve Spurrier (though he qualified as an Evil Genius only at Florida), but Vince Dooley (six SEC titles, one national championship) and Urban Meyer (two BCS titles) never had one.

With Saban, it’s really a cult of impersonality.  Sometimes it seems the sole difference between Saban and his near-namesake Satan is that the devil has a sense of humor. It was Saban who famously spent the press briefing after Alabama’s  breakthrough victory over No. 3-ranked Georgia in 2008 — the Tide led 31-0 after two quarters on the road — raging about how his team had been outscored by 20 points in the second half.

“I know I don’t look happy,” Saban said that night, “but I am.”

Saban never looks happy. The man is so driven you wonder how he hasn’t yet driven himself, and those who work under him, insane. He cracked one smile during his half-hour appearance before the print media Friday, and then only to make fun of Baton Rouge writer Glenn Guilbeau, whom Saban described as “a friend.” (Coach Satan has friends? Who knew?)

As odd as it sounds, the glowers have become Saban’s stock in trade. He appears to take football more seriously than anyone else in his industry, and this plays well in the South, where college football is taken most seriously, and in his state, which is mad for the game.

Another incongruity: The manically intense Saban spent a couple of minutes Friday suggesting that Auburn-Alabama rivalry has grown too intense. “We can be all be a little more respectful to each other and still have just as a fierce a competition on the field as we’ve ever had,” he said.

But that was it for moderation. Saban devoted most of his time to the boilerplate stuff — focus, commitment, all that jazz — and then he stalked away, the smell of sulfur in his wake. Gazing on him, we thought to ourselves, “What mortal can possibly stand against such fury?”

Les Miles, maybe?

By Mark Bradley

391 comments Add your comment

scdawg

July 22nd, 2011
1:23 pm

joe

July 22nd, 2011
1:24 pm

Juuurdun Hay-ur

July 22nd, 2011
1:25 pm

joe

July 22nd, 2011
1:25 pm

oh well, second is good too, just like UGA will be in the SEC Least if they are lucky.

scdawg

July 22nd, 2011
1:28 pm

Nick Satan may have sold his sold to win championships, but the man can coach. Who else could win a national championship without an elite quarterback? Sometimes I wish Mark Richt had his drive and attitude about football.

5$ Dawg

July 22nd, 2011
1:29 pm

Is it worth playing the ‘first!’ game on SEC media days?

Mark Bradley

July 22nd, 2011
1:29 pm

Kudos, sc dawg.

Just A Suggestion....

July 22nd, 2011
1:30 pm

….for you Mr. Bradley: http://www.getajournalismdegree.com

Roll Tide!!!!

jay

July 22nd, 2011
1:34 pm

I find him annoying and arrogant. However, he has built two programs from the ground up
to Nat’l champions while Richt hasn’t really come close. I like Richt but he is more dedicated
to his charity work (something to be admired) than coaching football, HIS chosen profession.

JYD

July 22nd, 2011
1:34 pm

murray county mystic

July 22nd, 2011
1:37 pm

MIles is the only coach in the SEC who can go toe to toe with Saban…MIles has beaten Florida as many times in his short career in Baton Rouge as UGA has in 21 years…jury is out on Chizik…or it may be convening; the NCAA jury, that is…

Mtn Dawg

July 22nd, 2011
1:40 pm

See you in New Orleans. GO DAWGS!!

1eyedJack

July 22nd, 2011
1:40 pm

“and then he stalked away, the smell of sulfur in his wake.”

You meant brimstone, right?

Mtn Dawg

July 22nd, 2011
1:41 pm

The SEC Championship Game is in New Orleans, right?

Bryant

July 22nd, 2011
1:43 pm

Four first rounders Mark, I believe James Carpenter a left tackle was late in the first round. The talent is being stockpiled. Nine first team all SEC with six on defense, WOW!! We have won 36 games in the last three years and people like to say we were down last year with 3 losses. We will not win all our games every year but I like our chances. I know everyone is jealous but get over it. All the nuts that say he will leave one day. Sure he will to retire or take another job but while he is here we will be very good. I think that is all we can ask of anyone. And just so no one is confused when LSU won in 07, 16 of the 22 starters were recruited by Saban. RTR

Lowcountry Bulldawg

July 22nd, 2011
1:44 pm

That why Alabama underachieved last year. People talk UGA at 6-7 look at all the parts they had to replace. Bammer was returning the Heisman Trophy winner, his All Word backup, a QB who had not lost since the 2nd grade. The second best receiver in the conference in JJ. The best OLman in Carpenter since John Hannah. A defense that was only rivaled by the ‘85 Bears. This team should have gone undefeated but yet found a way to blow a 24 point lead to the $180,000 dollar man, Cam Newton. Bammer lost 3 games and now here we find ourselve again wondering just how will they blow this season. If they could not handle the success of winning the MNT how will they be able to handle the pressure that LSU and Arkansas put on them. This Alabama team is no where near as talented and lacks leadership at the vital role of QB.

Well, yeah...

July 22nd, 2011
1:44 pm

…Saban is a good coach, but he ain’t no Bear Bryant…or even Bud Wilkinson…or Daryll Royal…or John McKay(”Coach, what did you think of your offense’s execution?” ” I am all for it”)…

[...] (23), Mississippi State (1) and Auburn. …Saban mocks media's pick of Tidemsnbc.comWhy is Bama so feared? Because its coach scares us to deathAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)A closer look at SEC picks, All-SEC teamESPN (blog)The Associated [...]

No fear here

July 22nd, 2011
1:52 pm

Doesn’t scare the Gamecocks – slapped Bama up and down the field last year.

bucket

July 22nd, 2011
1:53 pm

I know Richt has not won a national championship @ UGA, but to say he hasn’t been close is not true. I know close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades, but if college football had a playoff format like every other sport known to man, UGA would have been in the hunt for a championship several times during Richt’s tenure.

Spike 80DF

July 22nd, 2011
1:54 pm

agree with you on this Mark. since when is Bama above reproach? yea they won a NC which earns a lot of respect but like Lowcountry said, they underachieved last year with everyone that came back and i never heard a single person criticizing CNS.

Bryant

July 22nd, 2011
1:55 pm

Lowcountry you stated this team should have gone undefeated? What do you know of undefeated teams? 1980 LOL or the 08 edition of them DOGS Moreno, Stafford and the BLACKOUT? Who should have won that game? That is why they play the games.

joe

July 22nd, 2011
1:56 pm

The caption for the photo should read “Losers who have no life.”

bamaguy

July 22nd, 2011
1:57 pm

The John McKay quote is my all time favorite. My favorite Bryant (which decent media can’t quote) was when they asked him in the 60’s (can’t remember the year) about Notre Dame being awarded the NC with a tie on their record and Alabama second althoughundefeated. Bear said “I don’t like to get S*rewed unless I’ve been kissed first.”

I am been to several alumni gatherings where Saban spoke. He was always quite jovial. I think he saves that growl for sports media.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

July 22nd, 2011
1:58 pm

According to Tide Nation no need to play games. Just put another statue of Satan right by the first one. Tide Nation is the best. All that talent and 3 loses last year. 24 point blown lead to your biggest rival. I bet that stung. Alabama finds another way to choke the season away. Tide Nation still fawns over Satan. They fill up the stadium in the Spring with 90,000 trailer park dwellers….

RDS

July 22nd, 2011
1:59 pm

No doubt, Saban is an intense person. But, why criticize someone who loves his job and expects perfection? He tries to surround himself with perfectionists too. And, results show that his ways work. So, why make him out to be a bad person? He’s not a bad person. He’s the envy of college football because he’s driven to perfection and wants all around him to be the same way. In the business world, that would be Apple and Steve Jobs.

Jealousy, thy name is Mark Bradley.

Bryant

July 22nd, 2011
2:01 pm

bamaguy it was 1966 Notre Dame played for a tie with Michigan St.10-10. Al goes undefeated beats NEBRASKA BY FOUR TOUCHDOWNS in the Sugar Bowl and we were voted 3rd!!

BamaCLT

July 22nd, 2011
2:02 pm

Lowcountry, you’re forgetting that this year’s team has trial by fire experience that’s held by highly coveted players. This year is projected to be better than last year for a few reasons. One, more experience everywhere, except QB. Two, Alabama doesn’t have to face six opponents who had the luxury of a bye week before the contest. Three, injuries have healed. Alabama was plagued by injuries last year. At Auburn alone, injuries took out parts of the OL, offensive backfield, secondary, and the receiving corps. This year’s team has depth at just about every position. The only question at the moment is LT, which Barrett Jones can handle. Leadership is plentiful in Hightower, Richardson, Jones, Vlachos, Barron, Lester, and Upshaw. And my last point is this: Are you telling me that you UGA fans wouldn’t salivate over a 10-3 season with a blowout in the Capital One Bowl? I suggest you watch the highlights on youtube and observe how a higher ranked Michigan State got owned by a healthy and rested Crimson Tide. That’s a big reason why Alabama is feared by all of its opponents this year.

bigcrimson75

July 22nd, 2011
2:03 pm

Oh….The jealousy. 2 BCS titles @ 2 different schools, and oh-yeah, the man runs a CLEAN program.

Bear

July 22nd, 2011
2:03 pm

Of course he was a horrendous NFL coach and he lied and quit when it all got too difficult for him.

bamaguy

July 22nd, 2011
2:03 pm

Lowcountry Bulldawg; have you seen the average UGA fan? Seriously? Not alumnus, just fan. You know, the kind that beat up that disabled man in Florida. And as as far as Alabama goes, since Georgia outside Atlanta is Mississippi without the casinos, I wouldn’t throw that stone.

BAMA dude

July 22nd, 2011
2:03 pm

Lowcountry, you couldn’t be more wrong in your assessment. Bama fans who were really tuned in last offseason were very concerned about the high praise given to a team with such a young defense. You just don’t replace guys with the experience of McClain, Reamer, Deaderick, Cody, Arenas, Jackson, and Johnson without mistakes. In addition, Dareus and Upshaw spent most of the season dealing with high ankle sprains. Amazingly, that defense was still good enough (and well-coached enough) to dominate most of the time. The one achilles heel, not surprisingly, was the big play. USCe, the Barn, and LSU all outscored us with long gainers in the passing game. I really think Kirkpatrick and Milliner will show up big this year at CB, and the Barron/Lester combo might be the best safety tandem in the country. Add to that a LB corps that returns literally everybody and a DL that replaces only two departing (from the roster, not just the starting lineup) with two NFL-caliber juco transfers, and you have the makings of a ridiculous defense. Offensively TR will be fine at RB, we have two four star QB prospects (we all know Nick ain’t airing it out much anyway), and Duron Carter coming in to help replace Julio’s production.

bob

July 22nd, 2011
2:04 pm

Saban is an outstanding coach. But my goodness, the hyperbole is a bit much. And no, he did not rebuild Bama from the bottom. He inherited a team that two years earlier won the Cotton Bowl. So please.

He has won one SEC title in 4 years at Bama. That is very good, but not God like. Lets keep things in perspective. Bradley you almost sound Updyke like.

destin dawg

July 22nd, 2011
2:04 pm

Saban’s teams and always up and down and he’s off and gone after a just few years .. just watch..

SEC Fact Finder

July 22nd, 2011
2:04 pm

Nice descriptive article Mr. Bradley.

As a guy who is in around the league for 30 plus years I have seen some great men, great coaches, great recruiters and some great assistant coaches who did not have the drive or the skill set to be good head coaches. On the other hand we have seen coaches like Saban, Richt, Spurrier, Meyer, Fulmer, Bryant, Dye, Stallings, even Houston Nutt (with Malzahn) hire assistant coaches and put them in situations to be successful and then move on to better jobs. If you have coaches who are elevating through the ranks of coaching then you are doing something right. If you have coaches who are elevating through the ranks of coaching and they are successful it means your program and processes are right. Saban does them all.

In todays College Football world of limited time with your players, no athletic dorms, and limited recruiting the coaches (especially in the SEC) have to really handle the small details and set a plan that will allow your coaches, your administrators, your support staff and your student athletes to excel in every aspect of the program.

As an Alabama fan first, SEC fan second it is we should all want our brothers across the SEC to be successful. Now with Muschamp at Florida and Jimbo Fisher(ACC) at Florida State we will get to see if the processes and fundamentals instilled in the people around Saban is a solid foundation or if Coach Saban is doing it with smoke and mirrors and or fear.

I really could care less if any other fan “liked” the head coach at my school, however when it comes to respect we all hope others do respect the guys in charge of our programs.

Good Luck to all of you and your football teams this fall.

Go SEC!

Rebounding Dawg

July 22nd, 2011
2:04 pm

“Because Its Coach Scares Us [the media] to Death”

This is one problem with UGA-the pr people do too good a job accommodating the media.

The kind of penny ante bs FOIA stuff re scooter accidents the AJC passes off as reporting, and the RICHT FAILS BECAUSE HE DIDN’T HIRE A DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR FAST ENOUGH, RIGHT JEFF? YOU GOT IT MARK! analysis of the UGA program, and well as snarky twitter comments, would all get a news organization the big freeze out at Alabama (or UF or AU or UT).

I wish UGA would start telling the AJC to go suck eggs whenever any sort of access was requested. It’s time UGA understood that the AJC is primarily a college football (and especially a UGA football) newspaper. Uncovering APS corruption is nice, but day in and day out people read the print or online versions primarily for UGA coverage. Time for Georgia to use some of the power it has to even the reporting playing field.

Bryant

July 22nd, 2011
2:05 pm

lowcountry you are right about one thing, the loss to Auburn still stings everyday. The last time we felt like this was after the 1972 punt Bama punt game. It was 10 years before they beat us again, just saying

Just Me

July 22nd, 2011
2:05 pm

It is just HISTORY. The BAMA History is unbelievable. Even with a Shula as the coach teams feared BAMA (until they realized during the game) they could win.

bob

July 22nd, 2011
2:06 pm

Enter your comments here

bryant you are absolutely right about 66. Bama probably got screwed. But don’t forget 64 when the Tide lost to Texas and still was NC. And oh yeah, in 73 when you lost to ND and still got it. The AP and UPI rules changed after those two games because it was pretty stupid to award a NC to a team that lost its bowl game to another contender.

bamaguy

July 22nd, 2011
2:07 pm

It is entertaining to watch the UGA fans, who haven’t smelled any kind of championship in years, vent their frustration with sophomoric comments about other schools, states and coaches. I am assuming those who do so are “fans” and not alumni.

Tide Rising

July 22nd, 2011
2:09 pm

Saban doesn’t sleep. He waits.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

July 22nd, 2011
2:09 pm

@ Bryant

I really could careless about Bama. The program does not bother me one bit. I just have to give it to all the Bama fans who rag on our blogs all the time. It truly is all meant in good fun. I though do not like Saban. He is like the Yankee’s or Notre Dame. You either love him or you hate him. No middle ground. The only SEC program I can safely say I despise are Florida, Arkansas and Tennnessee. Heck even Auburn doesnt bother me. Make no mistake I was pulling for Bama last year against Auburn and I was shocked with them blowing the lead.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

July 22nd, 2011
2:10 pm

What about a Tide team with Dubose? The only person that feared that team was his secretary….

RDT

July 22nd, 2011
2:11 pm

Lowcountry Bulldawg you should know something about having talent and underachieving. UGA is probably the national champion in this category.

BamaCLT

July 22nd, 2011
2:12 pm

Lowcountry, the “low” in your name is self explanatory. Now you’re going from attempting to post intelligently to slinging mud. Ask yourself this: Why is the AJC dedicating an article to UA instead of UGA. Figure that one out.

1eyedJack

July 22nd, 2011
2:15 pm

“They fill up the stadium in the Spring with 90,000 trailer park dwellers…”

And them folks are graduates.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

July 22nd, 2011
2:16 pm

Obvious BamaCLT you have not read the other 400 articles about UGA this paper puts out.

Lighten up Bama fans, it is all in good humor. We UGA fans have to put up with all kinds of crazy Bama fans on our blogs. I am just having some good natured fun. Satan is like the Yankee’s or Notre Dame. You either love him or hate him. No middle ground.

So Tide fans just lighten up and take it for what its worth. If you read my comments on other blogs rarely do I go to mudslinging- well unless its Ga. Tech,lol.

JacketonProbabtion

July 22nd, 2011
2:16 pm

He’s a tiny little thing. Man, with that spray on tan he uses he could be an oompa-loompa

JB

July 22nd, 2011
2:18 pm

I’m a Dawg fan………….I just have one thing to say………He has the rings…….Two of them…….From 2 different SEC schools………..It ain’t bragging if you can back it up…..That was hard to say.

bamaguy

July 22nd, 2011
2:18 pm

Bob, that’s why I tell people that the BCS, with all it’s faults, is better than what it replaced. And I concur that Alabama got the benefit of the doubt when picking the NC because of Bear Bryant.