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On Saban and Alabama Football

At the end of the 1957 season the Crimson Tide was in dire straits.  Head coach J.B. "Ears" Whitworth had started his career at Alabama going 0-10 before "improving" by going 2-7-1 in the next seasons.  It was the worst period in the history of the proud program, and changes had to be made.  While everyone knows how the rest of the story goes, it seems that, in the hoopla surrounding the arrival of Nick Saban, the details have been forgotten.

The proud program was humbled and humiliated, clinging to fond memories of Rose Bowls and national championships past and tossing around names like Wallace Wade and Frank Thomas.  Understanding the importance of Alabama football to both the university itself and the state as a whole, Dr. Frank Rose insisted that Alabama hire a coach with "a remarkable record in his profession...a good recruiter, who knows the South.  A nationally recognized man."  Their primary target was former Alabama player and (then) current head coach of the Texas A&M Aggies, Paul Bryant.  Bryant was considered one of the best coaches in the country already, having won everywhere he went and having been wooed by plenty of other college programs and even the pro ranks (Preston Marshall, owner of the Washington Redskins, had tried to hire Bryant during his stay at Kentucky).  Unfortunately for Alabama, Coach Bryant had other ideas.  His loyalty was to the Aggies, as he had never quit a job simply because there was another offer on the table.  His tenure at Maryland lasted one season because of administrative meddling in athletic affairs, and he left Kentucky after eight winning seasons and an SEC title because of the long shadow of Kentucky basketball.  He recommended Jim Tatum, his successor at Maryland and then head coach of North Carolina, for the job, and politely declined.  But the end of the 1957 season saw Bryant change his mind.  His Aggies had lost two games and the conference title by three points, and his team had dropped from a #1 ranking earlier in the season to #10 as he watched Rice and Texas accept bids to the Cotton and Sugar Bowls, while he was headed to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl.  Though he was unprepared to confirm that he was headed for Alabama, he stretched the language as far as he could, saying things like he would have liked to have thought he hadn't considered the job and that his only focus was the upcoming match with the Longhorns.  Bryant felt he owed it to his players to make the trip to Jacksonville with them, their first since coming off probation, and delayed any confirmation that he wanted and had accepted the Alabama job until after the last game.

If that plot doesn't sound familiar, then you probably haven't been paying much attention to the recent coaching search.  The Shula years certainly weren't as disastrous as the tenure of Ears Whitworth, but the net effect was the same;  A proud program, not so far removed from it's most recent national championship that it had forgotten its past, toiling away in obscurity as a progression of worsening coaches placed Alabama further away from the heights it had previously attained.  A proven leader, one who had demonstrated the ability to not only win football games, but a drive to win in at everything he did, was called for.  Then head of the univeristy Frank Rose didn't go looking for an up and comer in the assistants ranks.  He didn't take a gamble on a successful coach from a smaller school or conference.  He identified the biggest name and best candidate out there because that's the person he knew would restore Alabama to its place at the top of the world of college football.  Paul Bryant had won the SEC with Kentucky, and had made the Texas A&M Aggies a force in the old Southwestern Conference.  There wasn't an attitude that he would win because he was at Alabama.  The attitude was that Alabama would win because he was there.

And so we see it happening again with Nick Saban.  After spending a decade clinging to former glories while assistants and lesser coaches were handed the keys to the kingdom with the belief that Alabama would somehow make them greater than they could be themselves, the university has taken steps to ensure that Alabama has a winner on its sidelines.  I'll be the first to tell you about the great tradition and history of the Crimson  Tide, but I know that that history and tradition exists because this football program draws excellence to it.  The men who stand frozen outside of Bryant-Denny succeed each other for a reason.  Wade beget Thomas, who beget Bryant, who beget Stallings.  Likewise the players on the field.  One need only look at the long chain of stellar running backs that have graced the Crimson Tide backfield to see that the performance on the field of the Humphreys and Lassics drew the Alexanders and Darbys to the Capstone. They weren't recruited because the Alabama jersey has magical powers that make an ordinary back great. They were recruited because they were great, and they came because of the greatness that had preceded them. Winners want to associate with other winners, while losers only want to see winners fail.

Speaking of losers, the sports media spent most of December telling the world that Alabama is living in a bygone era, that our time has passed, and that no coach of any consequence would take the position of head coach because of the fanbase and it's outrageous expectations. Former head coach Bill Curry insisted that Alabama fans won't be happy unless you win every game and find a way to beat Auburn twice in one year. They proclaimed that the restoration of a proud program to it's winning ways was the province of Notre Dame and Florida, of Southern Cal and Texas, but not Alabama.  Alabama is old and busted, they say, while Southern Cal is the new hottness.  And now that a respected coach has accepted the position, they fill their time casting aspersions about him and his character, as if to say "we might have been wrong about a smart coach being unwilling to take the job, but by doing so he's made himself into a mercenary, a whore, and a liar," never once acknowledging that the denials of interest were given at a time when they were either true, for Saban had no interest in the job when first approached, or out of necessity, for the coach still had games to prepare for and had insisted that he would no longer respond to such rumors.  They make no mention of that fact that the figures being thrown his way are earned money based on past performances, all while accusing us of ruining college football for paying so much and calling Alabama a symbol of what's wrong with society.  We're being told that athletics in this state are out of control, for Coach Saban is making $4 million a year while Alabama schools are ranked 45th in the nation, but no one is acknowledging that Alabama football pulls in ridiculous amounts of money to the university and not one penny of Saban's salary is coming from anywhere besides the athletic department's budget.

To them I say, cram it.  No longer does the sleeping giant slumber away while others succeed around him, mired in outdated and arrogant thinking and willing to suffer the slings and arrows of those who would aspire to its greatness but who do not possess the ability to reach it.  Alabama has done what it took to restore the honor and dignity of it's name and it's fans.  Alabama didn't look to elevate someone who may or may not be worthy, but instead chose to find someone to elevate Alabama.  Nick Saban is the man for the job.  Sure, he's walked away from other jobs before, and I'm not foolish enough to think that a day may come when he feels like somewhere besides Lake Burton would be an excellent next stop.  But like Bryant before him, he walked away from a job because his heart wasn't in it, his heart was here, and because of that he will do everything he possibly can to succeed, not just for himself, but for the players he recruits, the assistants he hires, and the university that has placed its faith and good name in him.  Like Bryant before him, he will draw excellent assistants to his side.  Already, Kevin Steele, one of the best recruiters in the country and the man who has made Florida State's linebacking corp a pillar of the Seminole defense, is on board as defensive co-ordinator.  Recruits who had wavered in their commitment to the Tide are solid again, and players who had committed to other schools are taking a second look at Alabama, all because of Saban.

At the risk of sounding unbelievably cheesey, a new day has dawned for the Crimson Tide.  We are in the best shape the program has been in in a long time.  The stadium and facilities are top notch, the roster is growing with talent each year, the fans are energized and excited, and the commitment to excellence from the university is plain for all to see.  All that we need now is a football team worthy of that commitment, and with Coach Saban I feel like we are finally going to see one.  Roll Tide.