Bama-Notre Dame? A big game. Nick Saban? Even bigger

"You know, Brian, these crystal things can break if you drop them." (AP photo by John Bazemore)

"You know, Brian, these crystal things can break if you drop them. Just a warning." (AP photo by John Bazemore)

Fort Lauderdale – Taking a break from leveraged buyouts, the Wall Street Journal devoted four full Friday pages to college football, labeling Alabama-Notre Dame “the biggest game ever.” And it well may be. Alabama claims 14 national championships, Notre Dame 11. Alabama had the Bear, Notre Dame the Four Horseman. But you know all this already.

The mood on the ground in South Florida is a bit different. In January 2005, USC met Oklahoma here for the BCS title, and that, at least until kickoff, felt like a bigger game. Four of the top five vote-getters in the 2004 Heisman Trophy balloting — Matt Leinart, Adrian Peterson, Jason White and Reggie Bush — were on display, and three of those would actually win a Heisman before leaving school. (Then the game began and a Sooner named Mark Bradley fumbled a punt and the Trojans won 55-19. So much for buildup.)

Before the other Mark Bradley got involved, that championship game seemed a collision of colossi. This time there’s only one giant, and he’s the guy envious rivals insists wears lifts in his shoes.

Nick Saban, 5-foot-6, towers over college football in a way that even Paul William Bryant didn’t quite. The Bear had peers — Ara Parseghian, Bud Wilkinson, John McKay, Darrell Royal, Woody Hayes, Bob Devaney, Barry Switzer, Joe Paterno. Saban stands alone. Only Urban Meyer has a case for similar eminence, and if Alabama wins Monday night Meyer will have half as many BCS titles.

Brian Kelly has steered Notre Dame to an unbeaten season, and his Irish enter the title game ranked No. 1 to Alabama’s No. 2. Yet the most revealing question directed toward Kelly at a Sunday morning briefing was, “How much of a compliment is it for someone to say they see a lot of Nick Saban in you?” Kelly’s response: “A great personal compliment … I would take that moniker any time.”

Saban has won so big at Alabama — this would make three national championships in four seasons, and it would make the Tide the first repeat titlist of the BCS era — that questions for him tend to center less on this particular team than his famous “process,” which on its face is Football 101: Work hard, recruit well, establish team discipline. This wouldn’t have been a revelation to Bear Bryant, who delighted in arriving at work before dawn and calling the Auburn football office and getting no answer, which meant he was outworking his nemesis.

Said Kelly: “I know Nick has talked about it, too it’s a little bit old fashioned in the sense that this (game) is about the big fellas up front. It’s not about the crazy receiving numbers or passing yards or rushing yards; this is about the big fellas, and this game will be decided unquestionably up front.”

There are no gimmicks to Saban’s football. His defensive schemes are complex — when Saban was at LSU, a defensive player told the Baton Rouge writer Glenn Guilbeau that the Tigers named their different blitzes after states and ran out of states — but Alabama under Saban is essentially as Alabama was under Bryant, big and strong and fierce and above all consistent.

In his book, “How the SEC Became Goliath,” Ray Glier reports that Saban has a physical profile for recruits: Bama doesn’t want little guys, or inflexible ones. According to Glier, Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who worked under Saban at Michigan State, has brought those guidelines to Athens. Such is the immensity of Saban. He’s not some hot coach with a sexy offense. He’s he guy who came to the league that already played the best football and has forced everyone else to do as he does.

Business publications like Fortune and Forbes have sought to discover what makes Saban so successful, as if football was all nuts and bolts and no blood and guts. (A Fortune nugget: To save time and confusion, Saban eats a salad with turkey strips for lunch every day.) But he nearly teared up when he spoke of his dad, who was known as Big Nick and who ran a service station and a Dairy Queen in Monongah, West Va., and mentioned that he hated having to wash blue and black cars because Big Nick would make him do it again if he found streaks.

Said Saban: “So we learned a lot about work ethic. We learned a lot about having compassion for other people and respecting other people, and we learned about the importance of doing things correctly. And when I started to play for him in Pop Warner football, he was the same way as a coach — attention to detail, discipline, do things what you’re supposed to do, the way you’re supposed to do it, when you’re supposed to do it, the way it’s supposed to get done … discipline was engrained in just about everything that we did.”

This isn’t to say the Saban Process is all sweetness and light. Alabama did flout the spirit, if not the actual rule, by its oversigning of recruits, and many in South Florida hate Saban for running out on the Miami Dolphins after two nondescript years. But we can’t dispute the magnitude of what he has done at Alabama, and what he has done is render himself bigger than the biggest collegiate game in many a moon.

Further reading: History may favor the underdog Irish, but Bama is too good.

Still further: Bama’s Geno Smith went the wrong way on UGA’s final play.




By Mark Bradley

144 comments Add your comment

Grandmaster JeJe (GM)

January 6th, 2013
12:24 pm

FIRST

FIRE LD

WDE

January 6th, 2013
12:24 pm

He’s a ball coach for certain and for sure..

Hubie Green

January 6th, 2013
12:25 pm

@Mark; is this the obligatory “praise kiss of death” article you do so well? Notre Dame already has two decades worth of insignificance to make up for. Don’t pile on.

DP

January 6th, 2013
12:35 pm

Good article but I don’t agree that Saban is bigger than this game. I don’t get where all the Saban hating comes from other than the fact that he wins so much. I’m an Alabama guy but when Saban was at LSU I thought his teams were disciplined, talented and played hard. Not only has he won a lot at Alabama, but graduation rates are way up and off the field incidents are way down. I’ve never seen anything to hate, though he certainly could have done a better job of managing the communications in the period before he left the Dolphins.

And I’m not sure how Joe Paterno qualified as a peer of Bear Bryant when Bryant won 6 national championships and Paterno didn’t win his first until about 4 years after Bryant died.

Moist Dawg

January 6th, 2013
12:46 pm

This game is a matchup of two lightwait teams, one lightwait coach, one crooked sleazball coach, and two below average qbs that couldnt hold Aaron Murrays jock strap.
What a sickening display of “football” we will be forced to sit through. I can’t wait for it to just be over so I can hose off my barf bucket.

North Ave. Faithful

January 6th, 2013
12:55 pm

That moist dawg needs some meds and some basic lessons in spelling.

KBP

January 6th, 2013
1:00 pm

Saban is an EXCEPTIONAL recruiter and an excellent coach but I don’t think he is superior to other excellent coaches when it comes to X’s and O’s. Only his recruiting and BCS titles place him above his peers.

I would say Spurrier is the greatest coach in the last 30 years based on the fact that he won an ACC title at DUKE! DUKE! He then went to Florida and not only elevated that program to national prominence but he changed college football. No one was doing 4 and 5 wides in college until Spurrier. Now most every team has a 4 and 5 wide package. Zook and Meyer should thank Spurrier because they built upon the foundation he laid. Lastly, he has made South Carolina one of the most dreaded teams to play in the conference. Yes, South Carolina where no one other than Lou Holtz made them a little bit relevant. Under Spurrier they have become very relevant!

I have much respect for Saban and all he has accomplished but Spurrier is more impressive.

Go Dawgs! And by the way, Bama, beat Notre Dame!

drsoul

January 6th, 2013
1:07 pm

I think his handle defines ‘moist dawg’…totally ‘wet behind the ears’…
certainly does not ‘objectively’ know his football…and, obviously, by his spelling is only
a ’sidelines’ fan…!!!!

A person SMART enough to know.....

January 6th, 2013
1:08 pm

Looks like CHIP is only 5′-6″ too……..Two short guys with Napoleon Complexes maybe?

DawgEd

January 6th, 2013
1:12 pm

The other notable connection between Saban/Bryant is how much each of them have influenced their profession. Bryant’s methods were widely emulated in his days, particularly his development of what is basically the template for how to manage practices. Today, it’s Saban’s “process” orientation.

vikinghorse

January 6th, 2013
1:14 pm

While it might help your story for Saban to stand only 5′6″, it’s not accurate. Saban is 5′9″, per Saban. (Javier Arenas at 5′8″, standing side by side, is shorter.) Saban stands half an inch taller than Brian Kelly in all the co-pics.

Independent

January 6th, 2013
1:21 pm

UGA will show it’s relevance early next season with Clemson, S.C. and LSU in Sept….

A person SMART enough to know.....

January 6th, 2013
1:28 pm

MARK BRADLEY…………please do a LIVE blog for the Redskins vs Seahawks game. It matters more to your readers than Bama vs Notre Dame.

jack bull

January 6th, 2013
1:28 pm

Napoleon Syndrome, certainly.

Alphare

January 6th, 2013
1:31 pm

One report said on radio yesterday, when he visited BAMA team, he was impressed that all BAMA players are big and stong, look more like NFL players than college players. But when he saw Notre Dame players, he didn’t have that impression.

Mark, do you have the same impression with the 2 teams?

jack bull

January 6th, 2013
1:37 pm

Bama’s guys are bigger. It’s the ’supplement’ that Saban urges them to use.

RGB

January 6th, 2013
1:37 pm

Based on hygienically-challenged MoistDawg, Georgia was beaten by a “lightwait” [sic] team. So what would that make Georgia?

Here’s a tip MD: when you insult someone but misspell the word, it takes about three-fourths of the oomph out of the insult.

Perhaps “JealousDawg” or “GreenWithEnvyDawg” or “HateItThatI’llBeWatchingTheNLCSGameWithNoGeorgiaDawg” would be more accurate.

Time and Tide

January 6th, 2013
1:39 pm

I’m sure that Dawg Nation will be unanimous in cheering the Crimson Tide on to victory against Notre Dame. Even dawgs have to admire the strength and skills of a well-coached team of scholar-athletes, especially since they see so little of that in Athens, bless their hearts. :-)

Save that leftover New Year’s champagne to celebrate the Tide’s second straight BCS championship!

drsoul

January 6th, 2013
1:39 pm

DawgEd…you are right…practice management and also player discipline throughout, on and off the field is similar… as the years have progressed, there are so many different outside influences on players, where their commitment has to be monitored or it can get away from them.. Bryant had to deal with the early drug culture, hair and jewelry and integration of racial backgrounds as original changes…Younger coaches like Saban inherited those and many other influences and the only way to manage this successfully is ‘hands-on’… I do not think that a lot of schools go to the extent and that is where they have issues…

jeffrey d

January 6th, 2013
1:40 pm

please do a LIVE blog for the Redskins vs Seahawks game. It matters more to your readers than Bama vs Notre Dame.

I’m way more interested in the BCS NC Game.

B

January 6th, 2013
1:52 pm

Saban will win again. It has happened before, but there is noone to compare him to now.

dave

January 6th, 2013
1:55 pm

I already saw the BCS champions. Either Oregon or Texas A&M would wipe the floor with either Alabama or Notre Dame. No need for this game to be played Monday night no matter what the ESPN hype machine says. Oregon’s loss was far less ugly than Alabama’s loss or several of Notre Dame’s wins and of course A&M beat Bama even though ESPN wants us to forget. Game tomorrow night is completely bogus.

Festus

January 6th, 2013
1:58 pm

Bet when Bear Bryant called the Auburn office when he got to work it was a collect call. Nick Saban is the reason Urban Meyer “retired”. Strange how coaches can make it to the top of the heap in college ball but when they try the pros they are mediocre. Youse guys dissing the Notre Dame Bama game, is anybody forcing you to watch it? Should be great.

72 Dawg

January 6th, 2013
1:59 pm

Biggest game ever??? I don’t think so—NOT EVEN CLOSE! Try Vince Young and Texas over Southern Cal and The Nebraska beat down of Florida over the mighty (?) Spurrier. I am not a fan of Alabama, but this is going to be an ***kicking of Olympic proportions. Alabama over the princess by a minimum of three touchdowns!!!

RollDamnTide!!!

January 6th, 2013
2:11 pm

Just Damn Roll!!

Alphare

January 6th, 2013
2:14 pm

72,

biggest or not is a matter of opinion. Everybody has his own biggest game. I never thought Texas over USC is among the biggest games.

DawgNole

January 6th, 2013
2:15 pm

BRADLEY: Yet the most revealing question directed toward Kelly at a Sunday morning briefing was, “How much of a compliment is it for someone to say they say a lot of Nick Saban in you?”
____________________

Did he really say “. . . say they say a lot of Nick Saban . . . .” That’s a bunch of “says”; gotta be a “see” in there somewhere.

Wet Willie...keep on smiling

January 6th, 2013
2:32 pm

Nick told the Bama AD Mal Moore on the way home from Miami (after he agreed to take the Bama job)..

“Your crazy to pay me this much money for I am not that great of a coach. I have to get the best players to have success”. There will be nobody outwork Nick Saban (not his staff) for he knows he has to outwork the other teams for the very reason he told Mal.

Memo…The spread is coming to the SEC and Nick knows there is nothing that can be done to slow it down. You will see Bama move more into that after AJ and Mark will have to do the same. The days of the down and distance players on defense is coming to and end because with the no huddle you can’t get your 3rd and 6 people on the field. It’s over and the game is changing. Within 5 years you will see all the now very good teams in the SEC all at 9-3 each year. That is all.

Grammar Police

January 6th, 2013
2:39 pm

Run the spell checker please.

KommentKid

January 6th, 2013
2:39 pm

Without question, Saban has a distasteful personality. But he has something most programs don’t. DISCIPLINE. That’s a word that is missing in 90% of today’s college programs. It’s the reason UGA can’t win it all. The article expounds how his father drilled it into Saban during his early life. Now he’s doing the same for these kids and it works. Of course, America long ago shunned this principle and called it outdated. Same reason Pat Summit dominated.

Flo- Ri - Duh

January 6th, 2013
2:54 pm

Game of the century – my petootie – ain’t even the best game this year. If Bummer does not win by at least 17 points then everyone will know that Saban was out coached. Talent wise Saban has three times as many top tier athletes. Any one with that much talent should win – PERIOD.

evil empire

January 6th, 2013
2:56 pm

good thing LSU signed the Jennings kid to run the spread…

lanier

January 6th, 2013
3:00 pm

this is a sports blog not a gossip column. you are a moron Bradley

Hillbilly D

January 6th, 2013
3:01 pm

this (game) is about the big fellas up front.

They all are when you get right down to it. The skill guys can’t do anything if the big guys up front aren’t getting it done.

roughrider

January 6th, 2013
3:03 pm

Saban doesn’t win all these games by luck.He recruits well and teaches his players the art of football. Hard work, concentration and dedication to the program are instilled in the players.

Moist Dawg

January 6th, 2013
3:05 pm

History will tell the true story of nick satan. Satan will go down in the anals of history as a winning coach who sold his soul to the devil just for a couple wins. I know coaches and they tell me off the record that nobody likes him and think he is a shady jerk.
I’ll never in my life root for such a classless bunch. bama is a laughing stock.
Game set match

evil empire

January 6th, 2013
3:08 pm

bama is a laughing stock

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

says the clown who calls himself “Moist Dawg”…

drsoul

January 6th, 2013
3:08 pm

Dave…I did not realize that ‘crackheads’ watched sports…much less comment on them with bizarre outbursts..

DawgNole

January 6th, 2013
3:19 pm

Moist Dawg
January 6th, 2013
3:05 pm

History will tell the true story of nick satan. Satan will go down in the anals of history as a winning coach who sold his soul to the devil just for a couple wins. I know coaches and they tell me off the record that nobody likes him and think he is a shady jerk.
I’ll never in my life root for such a classless bunch. bama is a laughing stock.
Game set match
_____________________

You “know coaches,” and they talk with you “off the record”? Aren’t you the buffoon who claims to have “inside sources”? Please tell us you’re not serious.

drsoul

January 6th, 2013
3:23 pm

“moist dawg” sounds like someone who lost his shirt on the SEC Champ game….certainly a BS’er when it comes to knowing coaches and their opinions…. ’sold his soul’ and ’shady jerk’….what a jealous jerk you are ‘md’… and, definitely not ever been an athlete…!!!

Moist Dawg

January 6th, 2013
3:39 pm

Whatever drsoul. you are just jealous that you don’t get inside information and for the record, Moist Dawg was one of the best linebackers in the state back in his day.

Glory

January 6th, 2013
3:42 pm

First off, lets be honest with ourselves. Alabama is not a great team this year. The other two title teams were great, not this one. College football does not have a dominate team this year. Alabama is not the best team in the west. Texas A&M is and its a shame that their first game was cancelled and they had to start the season with Florida. We all know what they would do to the gators now. LSU should of cruised to a win over bama, Les Miles is the idiot of the year for completely losing two games on his own. With that said, the national title game is a mirage of espns perception of the so called two best teams. But I will give ND credit. They beat everybody on their schedule no matter what the score was. They played with very good stanford team even if it ended in controversy. ND has a very good chance in this game tomorrow. Either way, this title game will be easily forgotten.

Terry

January 6th, 2013
3:43 pm

Mark,

I wouldn’t take you for a journalist to get in line and take the easy road when analyzing Saban. Yes, he’s an organized coach with great success, but do you really think he’s the only college football coach who gets up a dawn and makes his assistants work on Christmas Day? He wins more than anyone else because of a morally bankrupt “process” of removing non-perfomring upper-classmen from his roster and replacing them with new recruits.

More medical redshirts than the rest of the SEC combined? Process. Discipline problems that only seem to affect non-contributors? Process. Follow it up with over signing? Process.

I was hoping you would be better than that and really analyze what gives Nick his competitive advantage. He knows it, that’s why he pitched a fit at the SEC coach meeting last year when the recruiting laws were tweaked. Either the rules will make his system obsolete or other coaches will employ a similar “sell your soul” process of their own. Otherwise, you can probably expect a few more championships. When you’ve got 10-15 more productive players on your roster – you will win, and win big, just like the Bear did.

drsoul

January 6th, 2013
3:46 pm

Sounds like you have a lot of cleat marks all over your head, ‘md’…. sorry, no jealousy here as I would imagine that my information is more resourceful than yours… by the way, how many National Championship Rings are in your house????

drsoul

January 6th, 2013
3:52 pm

Hmmmmm, Terry, did your Momma spank you this morning for stealing money out of her purse????

Moist Dawg

January 6th, 2013
3:52 pm

Terry, I approve of your comment. It is nice to see nick satan exposed for exactly who he is for a change.

Saban OWNS College Football

January 6th, 2013
3:57 pm

Coach Saban is bigger and better than anything than anything in the entire State of Georgia.

If Mark Richt were an assistant on Coach Saban’s staff…

…well, Richt would have never been hired or welcome in T-town in first place.

Roll Tied !

A&M 29 -- Bama 24

January 6th, 2013
3:59 pm

. . . BUT Johnny Football is even bigger than sneaky Saban.

A&M 29 -- Bama 24

January 6th, 2013
4:01 pm

Saban OWNS a LOSS at Home to Texas A&M !

Wet Willie...keep on smiling

January 6th, 2013
4:03 pm

Terry…sport you have a big case of envy! Moist Doggie is just having some fun…no way he can be that stupid.

LSU has 8 players going early to the NFL…..now that is talent! Les Miles is a DA and I for one am glad he is!