Petrino, Saban In Transition

FAYETTEVILLE — Both came from the NFL and replaced widely unpopular coaches. Each has a proven track record and a high salary.

And despite being controversial figures who have received waves of criticism in recent years, there's no doubt that Arkansas' Bobby Petrino and Alabama's Nick Saban know how to win.

The two coaches have proven over the past decade that they can take college football programs that have underachieved and mold them into national contenders.

Saban guided LSU to a national championship in 2003, and Petrino came close during his four seasons at Louisville. But the rebuilding projects they're each working on at the moment could take some time and patience.

"Change is hard on everybody, particularly seniors. They've been accustomed to how you do things (for) three, four (years). Some of them are in their fifth-year," Petrino said this week.

"Now they have to make a change and get used to practicing different — different emphasis, different meetings. They've got to buy into it. That's one obstacle you have to overcome."

Petrino and Saban will face each other for the first time as head coaches at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in a much-anticipated game between Arkansas (2-0) and No. 9 Alabama (3-0) in Reynolds Razorbacks Stadium.

However, the two coaches are in different stages of reshaping their programs. Saban is in his second year at Alabama, giving him a one-year headstart on Petrino, who's only two games into his tenure at Arkansas.

Both coaches will have time to bring in their own players and implement their own systems. But with Saban making $4 million a year and Petrino getting $2.85 million, fans will expect to see results sooner than later.

"If you've hired a winner, it takes about two years to know you've got a winner," former Auburn coach Terry Bowden said. "How many years did it take Bob Stoops to do it at Oklahoma? How many years did it take Pete Carroll (at USC)?

"How many years did it take Urban Meyer (at Florida)? How many years did it take Jim Tressel (at Ohio State)? The great ones in about two years, they either win it all or they're on their way."

When Bowden took over as Auburn's coach in 1993, the program was on NCAA probation and coming off a 5-5-1 season. His goal was simply to win six games in his first year with the Tigers.

Bowden ended up setting an NCAA record by becoming the first Division I-A coach to win his first 20 games.

"I think one of the keys is you've got to make sure you don't try to fix what isn't broken," said Bowden, who implemented his own offensive system as soon as he arrived at Auburn but kept the defense intact.

Saban and Petrino have each gone about making their own changes at their respective schools.

Petrino is in the process of turning a run-oriented offense under former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt into a balanced attack built around a high-powered passing game. The transition has been pain-staking at times, especially since he didn't inherit a veteran team.

"This is our first year in our offensive scheme, our defensive scheme and our special teams," Petrino said. "So it takes a little while."

Saban, meanwhile, has brought in a pair of highly touted recruiting classes. Alabama's players have also had more than a year to get accustomed to his demanding personality and no-nonsense coaching style.

"I think the players feel a lot more comfortable in what's expected of them," Saban said. "And they've changed their habits to some degree (so) those things aren't foreign to them anymore."

The Crimson Tide won its first three games last year, including a wild 41-38 victory over Arkansas in Tuscaloosa. But after the fast start gave fans a reason to be optimistic, Alabama dropped its last four regular-season games to finish 7-6 in Saban's first season.

Bowden said every program is different, and no two situations are identical. But he said perhaps the biggest challenge facing both Petrino and Saban early on is getting their players to buy into the system.

"If you lose a lot, you're going to tell people, ‘These are not my players,'" said Bowden, who now works as a college football analyst. "If you know what you're doing and you get it turned around, it's because those players bought into your system."



Tale of the Tape

Bobby Petrino Nick Saban

47 Age 56

Helena, Mont. Hometown Fairmont, W.Va.

$2.85 million Salary $4 million

43-9 College Coaching Record 101-48-1

Atlanta Falcons Short NFL Stint Miami Dolphins

3-13 NFL Coaching Record 15-17

Offensive genius Known as Tireless recruiter

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