Marshall: Comparing Tuberville vs. Saban

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at the head to head in-state coaching matchup of Tommy Tuberville going against Nick Saban.

Nick Saban will win at Alabama. He will, eventually, break through and end Auburn's Iron Bowl winning streak. Mark it down.

But the truth is that the same could have been said about whoever Alabama hired or even if Mike Shula had remained. It's a given that the Southeastern Conference's big six--Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee--are going to win, given a quality coach. They'll have good years, great years and years when things don't go so well.

And Nick Saban is certainly a quality coach.

Is he at a level above other top coaches in the SEC? Does he give Alabama something Auburn doesn't have?

The record says no.

It's easy to compare Saban and Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. They competed against each other in the same SEC division for five seasons. Here is how they stacked up during that period:

Saban was 48-16 overall at LSU and Tuberville was 46-18 at Auburn. Tuberville was 29-11 in the SEC and Saban was 28-12.

Saban won a national championship, in 2003 despite being dominated at home by a five-loss Florida team. Tuberville didn't get a chance to play for it in 2004 despite going 13-0 with one of the more dominating teams in SEC history.

Coach Nick Saban

Saban won two SEC championships, one in 2001 despite having three league losses, and another in 2003. Tuberville won one SEC championship, in 2004.

Tuberville had one perfect season. Saban had none.

Tuberville's record against Top 10 opponents was 7-7. Saban's record against Top 10 opponents was 3-4.

Tuberville had two seasons in which he did not lose at home. Saban had none.

Head to head, Tuberville won three and Saban won two.

Add it all up, and it's about as even as it could be. But, really, any comparison should go deeper than that.

Saban was at LSU, a program that has an entire state to itself, a state that has as many or more Division I-A prospects most years as Alabama. It's not the same at Auburn, just like it won't be the same at Alabama.

But Auburn's job just got a little harder. There's really no disputing that.

The hysteria that has surrounded Saban's move from the Miami Dolphins to Alabama shows again the battle that schools like Auburn face against the University of (name the state). It's a fact of life in college football.

Saban will be treated like a rock star at Alabama. Tuberville doesn't get nor want that kind of treatment at Auburn.

The experiences of schools like Michigan State, Clemson and Georgia Tech are far more typical than Auburn's. Since 1981, when Pat Dye took over the Auburn program, it could be argued that the Tigers have been the most successful of similarly situated football programs.

Since Saban left for the Dolphins at the end of the 2004 season, Auburn and Tuberville have kept right on keeping on, going 20-5. Tuberville has won a remarkable eight of his last nine games against Top 10 opponents.

There is no way to look into the future and know how future matchups between Saban and Tuberville will go. Auburn's five-game winning streak might get a little longer, a lot longer or might end next season, but it's a pretty good bet that, eventually, the Tide will win its share and the Tigers will win their share.

Saban has work to do to get Alabama anywhere close to the level of the program he left after the 2004 season, but he should send Tuberville a thank you note.

That five-game Iron Bowl winning streak has been almost too much for some at Alabama to take. That, more than any other reason, is why Saban became the highest paid coach in college football Wednesday.


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