Two coaches who have won multiple national championships will be matched in the biggest bowl game of the season to date Thursday night in New Orleans. No. 1 ranked Alabama (12-1 and champions of the Southeastern Conference) takes on fourth-ranked Ohio State (also 12-1 and champions of the Big Ten) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome. ESPN will televise the game.
One Wednesday, Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer discussed Alabama as having been the “model” of greatness in college football in recent years. Considering the competitive nature of the sport and the number of very fine programs in the nation, Meyer was asked about the level of that impressive achievement.
He said, “I think consistency at this competitive time is very impressive. And that's something everybody tries to model. You can have that one shot wonder, that one-year wonder, that one year where everything goes right. But to have it year after year that's the model that people look for.
“I think that's where Bill Belichick (ironically, Saban’s mentor) and the NFL has that model. There's been great NFL teams show up and then they disappear. The one thing about the Patriots, I like to think we model ourselves after as well, is a great testimony to consistency as well.
“So, it's very difficult, the more competitive and the amount of exposure and every school in the country right now is trying to load up and become part of this playoff. You see it happening every day across college football. To remain at the top is very difficult.”
That led to Part II of the question, whether it is too early to rank Nick Saban in the history of great college football coaches.
“I don’t think it’s too early,” Meyer said. Citing Saban’s four national championship teams (three at Alabama) and consistently winning at different schools (Bama, for instance, is going for its fourth national championship in six years this season), Meyer said, “I think, obviously, he’s one of the great coaches in college football history.”
Saban was brought into the conversation in a roundabout way. Asked whether he ever had time to savor his accomplishments, particularly at Alabama, he said, “I really haven’t and don’t because of all the things we talk about, like ‘to be where your feet are,’ ‘focus on what’s happening now,’ and ‘nothing that’s been accomplished in the past is going to have any effect on what happens in the future.’”
To say that the Saban record is great is almost an understatement.
Now in his eighth year at Alabama, he has three national championships (2009, 2011, and 2012) to his credit. (He also had a national title when coaching at LSU, making him one of only four men to coach four or more national championships. (The others are Paul Bryant of Alabama fame, Frank Leahy of Notre Dame, and John McKay of USC.)
His Bama teams have gone 91-16 on the field (six of those 16 losses in his first season in 2007) including 5-2 in bowl games. Alabama has seven consecutive seasons of double digit wins, including five years with 12 or more victories.
Saban said, “I think as a coach, you're always looking for the moments to come. And you're always looking for the next game, the next challenge, how do we prepare our team the best so that they have the best opportunity to have a chance to be successful in the game. And, again, you always want to send your team out there and say they were well coached, they were well prepared.
“And that doesn't mean you're always going to win.
“But it means that you at least gave them the best opportunity to go out there and have a chance to execute and be successful against whatever challenges the opponent presents. So, none of that ever gets thought about in the past tense. It's always in the future tense of what the next challenge is and what the moments are in the future that you're going to have to adjust to try to continue to be successful.”
So is Saban pround of making his Alabama program the model for the country?
“Well, I think there're a lot of good programs in the country, and a lot of people have had a lot of success. And we have a so-called vision of what we want to accomplish, and we have a process that we think is effective when people buy into it, and we try to create the discipline for the people involved to be able to execute that sort of process.
“And I think that's been the key to our success.
“I also think that from a program standpoint and from a total administrative standpoint, from a University standpoint as well as from an athletic department standpoint, we've been able to create a program that provides a lot of value for players in terms of how we try to use this process to help them be more successful in life for some of the things that they learn in the program. The importance of getting an education, developing a career off the field, doing the things that you need to do to develop as a football player so that you may have a career as a football player someday if that's your goals and aspirations but always keeping being a good person, developing a career off the field and developing a career on the field, relative to the importance of how is that going to help you be successful in your future. And that's something that I'm very thankful that our institution has done everything they can to help our players have the best chance to be successful long term in their life.”
“There's a lot of self-gratification in seeing that happen for young people developing the kind of characteristics that will help them be successful on and off the field.”