Folks in Husker land watched the BCS National Championship last night with probable disgust. Alabama, a team many say didn’t deserve to be there, shut out the LSU Tigers 21-0 with a defense that could yell bark off a tree and an offense that had no penalties, suffered only one sack, and was efficient throughout the night.
While most fans of the Big Red were annoyed at their team not being able to win a game that way, what they should have been doing was seething in jealousy over what Nick Saban has.
The fact is, what Saban does is something that any school could very easily do, including Nebraska.
Bo Pelini and Saban preach to us the process of becoming winners, and there is no doubt that there is a process that has some parallels no matter where you go. However, that’s where the similarities start and end between Nebraska and Alabama.
Saban has his detractors, but he fights through them with results. There are a few things that make him great that has either missed or not addressed since he became the head coach of Alabama.
This includes things like:
An Athletic Department That Demands Excellence: When you become the head coach of a SEC school with the history of the Crimson Tide, excellence is demanded from you in every aspect. You absolutely must compete every year for the division and conference championships. Anything less is considered a failure in the eyes of the media, fans, and your superiors.
This is not true at Nebraska. Nine wins continue to be enough for some, but that standard earned the Cornhuskers the No. 24 spot in both polls today. Does anyone truly consider that successful? Not in Tuscaloosa. There is no reason it should be the case in Lincoln, either.
Coaching and Player Development: When Saban first won a title at LSU in 2003, his offensive coordinator was current Florida State head coach Jimbo Fishere. His defensive play-caller was none other than Will Muschamp, the man who was revered at Auburn and Texas before landing at Florida.
Saban does have a masterful defensive system, one that Muschamp and Kirby Smart have studied and ran well. However, Saban lets his people coach and make their own decisions, especially on offense.
He admitted that offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, who is leaving to become the head coach at Colorado State, had the entire gameplan centered around a quarterback (AJ McCarron) who he trusted. Saban felt McCarron could manage the game and move the ball down the field against a Tiger defense that was staunch against the run, but occasionally shaky against the pass.
Considering that Carl Pelini just left for his own head job at Florida Atlantic, it’s not fair to do the coaching tree comparisons quite yet. On the other hand, how much confidence has Bo shown in either Shawn Watson or Tim Beck? Both coaches have shown the ability to sit on two-score leads instead of getting aggressive with their attacks.
On several occasions, Bo has either not shown the ability to prod his offensive coordinator or has ordered them to rein in the playbook. This frame of mind has cost Pelini victories the last few years, including this season’s Capital One Bowl. Sometimes getting out of your own way or helping your assistants get out of theirs the best thing you can do.
Player development has been an advantage that all SEC schools have had over everyone else, so it’s really not fair to compare Pelini and Saban there. Oversigning and massive roster attrition is essentially a pass that SEC commissioner Mike Slive has given his coaches without considering the perception of national media.
Not that they would hear it, considering the southern press’ indelible love of football drowns out most anything else anyone says. This is not to say that Bo shouldn’t take a look at Saban’s nonstop recruiting efforts, though.
Every member of every class Saban has signed since 2000 has a national championship ring. His staff works non-stop, all year, until National Signing Day to get the best players on that campus and secure their commitments.
Imagine if Alabama’s head man wouldn’t focus on things until the end of the Auburn game or have less than 30 official visits take place over the course of the regular season. Mal Moore, the Tide’s athletic director, wouldn’t tolerate that and neither would the fans.
The environment around Saban demands that even right after his second national title in three years, he’d better get right to work on the next one. That is part of the process that drives him. Nebraska fans can only dream that the same environment existed in Lincoln to essentially force Bo to become that same brand of coach.
Nebraska’s athletic department has paid the bills thanks to the football program and winning conference titles. Fans scoop up national championship swag years after any conference title’s shirts stop printing. There is no reason that the same demands made of Saban shouldn’t be made of Pelini.
Alabama’s head man makes $4.2 Million, Pelini just a shade under $3 million. They are both the most respected men in their state, and their every move and word is put under a microscope.
The coach that embraces those ideas most is the one who hoisted a crystal football in the Bayou following a de facto home game for his opponent. The one that fought them saw his team give another lead away in Orlando over a week ago.