Nick Saban Blinks in Battle with Auburn
Momentum is a funny thing. When it’s going your way, you look tan and ready for the world. When it’s not, you just look old and outdated. Remember when Nick Saban was the cool kid on the block? You’ll have to reach way back, like to August.
There was talk about a third consecutive national title and comparisons to the original mad hatter, Bear Bryant. Fast forward to today and well, Nick just looks old. A shocking loss to your arch rival followed by a beat down from Bobby Stoops and suddenly, even the most fervent trailer park fan starts to ask questions.
This has not been the best month for Saban. After enduring the loss to Oklahoma and then having to sit in the Rose Bowl and watch Auburn play on the biggest stage, the once anointed one now has a fan base wondering whether its best days are in the past.
The hiring of Lane Kiffin, arguably the most toxic coach in the game today, led to unseen outrage, and even Saban’s old buddy Paul Finebaum wonders whether he’s panicked in light of what Gus Malzahn has accomplished in his first season at Auburn.
The recent departures of several assistant coaches and players have just added fuel to the speculation that Saban is in full meltdown mode. Having built his career on a pro-set offense and an opportunistic defense, it’s taken a near loss to Auburn in 2009, followed by two gut-wrenching defeats in 2010 and 2013, to make Saban realize that it’s time to adjust to Malzahn.
The man with four national titles is on the verge of having the game pass him. Let that sink in for a minute.
Just last week new allegations of possible rules violations surrounding disassociated Alabama booster Tom al-Betar came to light. National writer Clay Travis went as far as saying al-Betar owns the Bama program.
For the first time since the early days of his tenure, there is some headwind in Tuscaloosa. Gus Malzahn is the “it” guy. Everybody wants to play in his offense. His assistants relate to recruits unlike most in the game.
Despite losing the title, Auburn is the cool story of the 2013 season. National pundits say Malzahn’s offense is built for post-season play like few others.
This is uncharted territory for Saban.
He’s used to being the main man. He left Michigan St. because of the shadow of Ann Arbor. At LSU, he was the only game in town. When he arrived at Alabama, all he had to do was watch Tommy Tuberville and Jay Jacobs fight amongst themselves and tear down the program.
Things are different today.
Like his mentor, Bill Belichick, there are questions of how much longer he’ll be around. Despite signing a 7-year mega contract, most doubt he’ll go the distance or get even close. He looks more tired these days. Perhaps Saban’s wife, Terry shared the truest picture when she told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year that some Alabama fans are spoiled by success and have a lack of appreciation.
That lack of appreciation has now turned into a full-on revolt by Bama fans. There’s no arguing that Lane Kiffin is a curious hire. Cut away all his bulls**t and deep down, he’s a pretty good offensive coach.
While at Tennessee, Kiffin raised the Vols scoring average 12 points to 29.3 a game. Total offense bumped from 268.3 yards a game in 2008 to 383.5 in 2009.
The two biggest questions are whether he’ll be able to keep his mouth shut and more importantly, can he matchup with Ellis Johnson and the Auburn defense. There’s not an honest Alabama fan out there who wouldn’t take Johnson in that battle.
The storyline for 2014 will be whether Saban can adjust to Malzahn and the rest of the hurry-up offenses in the SEC or will he begin drifting into mediocrity. There’s no arguing that if there were a Mount Rushmore of SEC coaches, he’d be on it.
The question is whether he can evolve in a fast changing college game. The hiring of Lane Kiffin makes you wonder.