Better late than never
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
The old adage is good things come to those who wait. Alabama fans had to wait a long time – Mike Shula was fired on Nov. 26 and Nick Saban was hired Jan. 3. For those keeping track at home, that's a whopping 38 days where Alabama was looking for its next football coach.
And with every day that passed, doubts began to rise about Alabama's standing in college football. The storylines populated throughout the mainstream media – "Nobody wants to coach under that microscope;" "Alabama is a has-been among college football's elite;" "Even the head coach at West Virginia turned them down!"
It's a playbook that has been used many times before. The same things were said about Oklahoma in 1999 and USC in 2001. The Trojans were forced to go to their No. 4 choice after Mike Bellotti, Mike Riley and Dennis Erickson all said no. That fourth choice, Pete Carroll, has done pretty well for himself.
Although it's far too early to tell at this point, it wouldn't be too off the mark to say that Alabama will be back to being among the nation's elite soon. Saban fits the mold of just about anything the Crimson Tide could have wanted in its new coach.
Alabama wanted a proven winner at the college level. It got a coach who has never had a losing season in his 12 seasons at Toledo, Michigan State and LSU. It also got a coach who was 28-12 in regular season SEC play and won a national championship while in Baton Rouge. His career record in college is 91-42-1 and his teams made a bowl in 10 of his 12 seasons.
Alabama wanted a "rock star" name for its new coach. Saban fits that description to a "t." All you had to do was witness the throngs of media and public who went to Tuscaloosa to meet the new coach as he moved into his offices. You would have thought it was the 1960s and the Beatles were on tour. Although he's been lambasted by some in the media for the way he handled leaving the Dolphins, Saban is still a master technician when it comes to dealing with reporters. That is a stark contrast to Shula, who appeared unsure of himself during his first press conference at Alabama.
Alabama wanted a coach who knows the South. Saban was at LSU for five years, and certainly developed several key relationships with high school coaches and recruiters throughout the Southern region. Saban's recruits played key roles on LSU's successful team this season.
It will be tough because Saban now has to go head-to-head with other master recruiters like Phillip Fulmer, Tommy Tuberville, Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier, but you can be sure that Saban will win his share of the recruiting battles in the SEC.
Alabama wanted a coach who can beat Auburn. Saban is 2-3 in his career against the Tigers. Not great, but still infinitely better than Shula's 0-4 record.
That said, there are certainly a few risks involved. There are questions about Saban's character in the way he vehemently denied he wanted the Alabama job while he was still employed with the Dolphins. Detractors say that shows a man who can't be trusted, but I'm not completely sure. It would have been better perhaps for Saban to simply refuse to comment on the matter, but at the same time he had to show complete support for his current job. Naysayers also point to the fact that Saban has never stayed at a single job for more than five years. They believe that Saban will eventually tire of the pressure at Alabama and move onto something else before finishing out his eight-year contract. My response to that is: So what? You hire the best person available right NOW, and if Saban leaves then you deal with that issue when it comes. It would be a terrible decision to not hire someone like Saban simply because you're worried he might leave in three or four years – a coach can do a lot of good in those three to four years.
Also, Alabama fans will have to show some patience when Saban inevitably loses some games, and perhaps even loses them big. Believe it or not, in his five seasons at LSU, Saban had nine double-digit losses in SEC play, with four of those losses coming by scores of more than 28 points (Florida 2000: 41-9; Florida 2001: 44-15; Alabama 2002: 31-0; Georgia 2004: 45-16). In his last three seasons at LSU, Saban was 6-7 against ranked opponents and lost six games by double digits. Against Alabama's top three rivals, Saban was 2-1 against Tennessee, 2-3 against Florida and 2-3 against Auburn. Saban will certainly win his share of games while at Alabama, but to expect him to come right in and consistently dominate is a pipe dream. The modern day SEC is simply too competitive to allow that to happen.
But even with those caveats, the ultimate fact is that Alabama got its man and got the best possible choice available. And if you're a college football fan, that's all you can ask for your school to do.