SCOTT: Tough times for Ball Coach, Nicktator

Both own national championship rings. Both are considered among the most successful coaches in college football. Both are coaching at their second stop in the SEC.

What else do Saban and Spurrier have in common? They closed out the season with an end-over-end tumble down a rocky mountainside.

Alabama appeared to be headed in the right direction after a 41-17 victory over Tennessee on Oct. 20. Since then, the Crimson Tide has lost four consecutive games, including an inexplicable loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 17 and the program's sixth consecutive loss to Auburn. Alabama has now lost nine consecutive and 13 of its past 16 games in the month of November.

All of a sudden, the $4 million savior is earning $666,666 per victory and angering some Alabama loyalists with his tendency to blame everyone else but himself for the Crimson Tide's slide. He didn't help his cause by calling the ULM loss a "catastrophe" and comparing it to Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

Saban must have gotten the memo last week because he was careful to take some of the blame after the Auburn game.

"The most disappointing thing is that we didn't finish," Saban said. "We have made a lot of progress throughout the season. I didn't know how many wins we would get this season. ... There is no one that is more disappointed about how we finished than those players. I didn't get them ready to finish the season. We look forward to the future and future challenges."

Like Saban, Spurrier expected a much better result this season. In fact, Spurrier made it known last summer that the Gamecocks were finally ready to contend for the SEC East championship.

Seven games into the season, the Gamecocks were 6-1 and ranked No. 6 in the nation. Since then, they've lost their best defensive player, linebacker Jasper Brinkely, and five consecutive games, including last Saturday's last-second 23-21 loss to Clemson.

"We thought we'd win a few of 'em," Spurrier said. "But we didn't. We were competitive in this one at least. We've got to learn to stop the run. We've gotta do something or it's going to be a long fall, as they say. It just didn't work out."

Speculation has already begun about how far Spurrier is willing to ride this fall before he gets off and starts over somewhere else? If Les Miles leaves LSU for Michigan, will Spurrier leave South Carolina for LSU?

It's possible. Spurrier has expressed frustration with the school's admissions policies and the "culture of losing" former South Carolina coach Lou Holtz spoke of so often. From some of the critical comments he's made about his team this season, it's possible that Spurrier is starting to wonder if anyone can ever get this program on top.

Then again, Spurrier has a lot more than time invested in the program. He moved several family members to the Columbia area. At 62 years old, big job changes can be difficult for more than just the head coach and there's a lot to be said for Spurrier and his wife, Jeri, being close to their children and grandchildren. Plus, Spurrier is intensely competitive and might not want to leave South Carolina without having won a division title.

Spurrier has always had a great deal of respect for former Alabama and Auburn defensive coordinator Bill Oliver and has tried to hire him on more than one occasion. So when Oliver talks about Spurrier, as he did last week on the Paul Finebaum Radio Network, it should be taken seriously.

"I don't think Steve really wants to go anywhere," Oliver said. "He's 62 years old and he asked his family to come up to Columbia and join him and sort of reunite as a whole group together. He's got a son (Steve Jr.) there coaching with him.

"I think really, truly, he'd like to get another two or three classes of football players. I know right now he's down because of certain things. He still doesn't have the talent he'd like to have, but maybe he can recruit some more people, and if he can get some skill people to go with some decent people and have some fun and maybe leave it in good shape for his son."

Spurrier recently admitted, "I was probably unrealistic at some point thinking that our team could compete (for the SEC title) this year. Looking back, obviously, I was wrong. Our team wasn't strong enough."

At the same time, Spurrier doesn't sound like he's ready to give up. After saying his team wasn't quite there yet following the loss to Tennessee on Oct. 27, Spurrier was asked last week if thought the program could still get "there."

"Oh, certainly," Spurrier said. "I hate to get ahead of ourselves, but at the same time I guess we have to mention the future every time we have a little slump like we're in right now. But our big recruiting class was last year. They're all freshman and we certainly believe that they can develop into good players. They're not ready yet, but we hope and believe that they will develop."

Saban and Spurrier also share one more common thread. Both would like to see their teams go to a bowl, if only for the opportunity for more practice time for the younger players in the month of December.

"I don't know what will happen," Saban said. "I love for them to get to play in a bowl game. It will give us extra practice and the opportunity to improve."


Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author and Tiger Rag's SEC expert. Reach him at

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