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Nick Saban Blinks in Battle with Auburn

By on January 20th, 2014 in Football 23 Comments »

saban alabamaMomentum 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 When it’s not, you just look old and outdated.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.

23 Comments

  1. Tigerz Tigerz says:

    Most excellent article … it’s great to be an Auburn Tiger.

  2. DBAU81 says:

    Nothing lasts forever. There were some chinks in the armor this year in Tuscaloosa that weren’t fully apparent until the end of the season thanks to a relatively easy schedule. With scholarship limitations and early departures to the NFL, it’s becoming more and more difficult to sustain success in college football. That is especially true in the ultra-competitive SEC. Alabama is still one of the strongest programs in the country, but it is now confronted by an in-state rival led by a coach whose talent, drive and work ethic equals and perhaps exceeds Lord Saban’s. What a difference a year makes.

  3. Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

    Nick Saban’s main strength has always been recruiting, and running a pretty tight ship. His players on offense and defense play smart, disciplined football. As far as gameday coaching goes, I would say Saban is average at best. Tommy Tuberville and his 2 and 3 star recruits pretty much split games with Saban and his 4 and 5 star recruits. Let me say that again. Tommy Tuberville pretty much split games with Nick Saban. Gus Malzahn is going to be a much more difficult prospect for Saban to deal with on the field and on the recruiting trail. I don’t think Gus hunts, except maybe for recruits and game film.

    Mixing Lane Kiffin with UAT’s boosters is going to be VERY interesting. He was part of the problem at USC and was THE problem in Knoxville.

  4. MyAuburn MyAuburn says:

    It is pretty obvious that the Saban method of situational personell does not work against the HUNH offense. Add to that the defensive calls that need to be made to get the players in the right positions and it becomes a bigger nightmare. It seems he is bowing to the inevitable which means having to deal with AU, TAMU, Ole Miss, OK, and the host of other teams running the hurry up.The old school way is passing him by.
    He is a old school coach getting run over by new school coaches.
    He will never see the last year of his contract.

  5. Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

    If Saban really needs to adjust to the HUHN, don’t you think that he would make changes (major changes) on Defense? I mean Kirby Smart still has a job, right? I guess a more prolific offense would help, but I would think a shutdown D would be even better…..

    • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

      I think Saban is so arrogant that he doesn’t think his defense could possibly be part of the problem problem.

    • tigertracker says:

      He needs to get his strength coach off the jumbotron and have those players running wind sprints. There will be less need for situational defenders and more need for well conditioned, versatile athletes.

  6. audude audude says:

    Well written Jay.

  7. domaucan1 domaucan1 says:

    Great Article, Jay. In my humble, aged opinion, 2013 was just the tip of the iceberg for Auburn football. We will be a factor to be dealt with by ALL the SEC coaches. Come on A-Day! I can hardly wait until the 2014 season.

    IT’S GREAT TO BE AN AUBURN TIGER !!!

    WAR EAGLE !!!

    GO BIG BLUE !!!

  8. WarEagleAtlanta WarEagleAtlanta says:

    Nice! It’s a shame we don’t get any cross-RBR traffic anymore to joust with over this column.

    • tigertracker says:

      I’m torn. I enjoy good banter between teams, and I lurk RBR when they’re melting down*. That said there are very few I can carry on a conversation with online and that’s at “neutral sites” like edsbs, etc. I’ve heard its best not to debate idiots because they’ll bring you down to their level and beat you with experience, EVERY time. I thought it to be pretty sage advice.

      I agree with your premise, but the LITTLE joy I’d get from an awesome conversation with a level headed bammer is far, far outweighed by the misery which would be wrought upon TET by Lord Saban’s Troll Tide Cybersquad. That makes me think they’ll inevitably wander over, so why rush it?

      * Seriously, if you’ve had a bad day go to rollbamaroll.com and search for the auburn meltdown thread. It’s where they compile the “best” quotes from the live thread of the game. Your mood will improve instantly!

      • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

        …..The thing that would get me about RBR was that you’d go over there and try to say something nice, and they’d triple-troll you right off the bat. Naturally, you’ve got to expect a little jousting here and there, but but those commenters were pretty over the top. Of the current mods over there, my favorite is Bammer, who seems to actually be pretty intelligent.He asks good questions, and doesn’t take Bama superiority for granted. He’s a guy you can actually talk football with, even if you’re in an orange and blue shirt.

        • Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

          Yeah, you’d get tripled trolled, then banned. Classic. Oh the good ole days.

          I agree with you abt Bammer. He also gets flamed a lot by his own folks. The new RBR management lost some, but not all of the old commenters…….replaced some that would put Outside The Lines to shame.

          What sucked the most abt C&M replacing TET?? For the longest time, the bammers out-commented the barners on what an awesome site it was. Seriously. And the mods acted like that was a good thing. For shame!

          • WarEagleAtlanta WarEagleAtlanta says:

            Yea, you’re defintely doing something wrong if Bammers are lauding you.

          • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

            Agree. And for information purposes, Editors can see how the traffic is doing at TET, and our number of readers have skyrocketed since going completely independent. I for one am glad we are not part of SBN.

      • WarEagleAtlanta WarEagleAtlanta says:

        A few reasonable fans make it worthwhile. Part of the appeal of a blog is to jab back and forth with your rivals. If you decide to go into the snake pit of your rivals’ blogs, you better bring your A-game. I really miss that. I kind of feel we’re out here alone by ourselves.

        With RBR, they wouldn’t reign in the rude people. On TET, we decided long ago not to tolerate that from anyone–especially our own fans.

        On SBN, we could police the site if folks got out of line, with warnings and outright bans. We sometimes need to do that even with our own regulars.

        Anyone know of an independent Bama blog we can contact?

        • sullivan013 sullivan013 says:

          “Anyone know of an independent Bama blog we can contact?”

          Well, I looked around for a moderate one, but couldn’t find much more than something called “Big Al Queda.”

          Everything else seemed even more radical than that.

          (tongue-firmly-in-cheek)

  9. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I’m not sure I’m ready to shovel dirt on Saban’s grave, just yet. We were very fortunate to beat them this past season. Realistically, they had the upper hand from the second quarter on, but just couldn’t hit a field goal. Their no-show against Oklahoma was a repeat of 2008 Utah.

    …..Frankly, I’m interested to see what Kiffin does with a new starting quarterback next fall. I think Bama’s still in the upper echelon. I think we’ve seen the ceiling on the Mississippi teams, and Arkansas is still a couple of recruiting classes away from being able to play successful Bielema-ball. I expect Texas A&M to continue to slide with a new quarterback, unless they make drastic improvement on defense. LSU will also be breaking in a new starting quarterback, but I like their defensive personnel that are returning. I see Bama, Auburn and LSU battling for the division crown again.

  10. Jay Coulter Jay Coulter says:

    Thanks for the kind words.

  11. wpleagle says:

    Without giving away any secrets, how much editing/profiling of comments is done by TET management to control the vitriol on the site?

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..Really, none. It’s been pretty much uncensored since we left SBN. At least on content. We still delete spam posts, but no one’s really made enough of a stink to get the banhammer in a long while.

    • tigertracker says:

      I’ve noticed my stream of consciousness writing style sometimes gets punctuation and paragraphs made out if it ;)