This just in… Kentucky’s Mark Stoops has been named the Associated Press Southeastern Conference Football Coach of the Year.

This is not a call for a recount, or for a hasty journey to Florida to see if there are a few hundred ballots drifting in the Broward County breeze. Stoops deserves recognition. Kentucky has won nine games this season with a bowl game yet to go. The Wildcats were ranked for most of the season and at least managed to play for a shot at the SEC East title, even though Georgia handled them at home. By Kentucky football standards, that is a heck of a year.

So no one is crying out about an “injustice.” Stoops did an outstanding job this year. So did Ed Orgeron at LSU and Dan Mullen at Florida. They all deserve recognition.

The question is, what award is there for Nick Saban? He did not win this AP award and may not win the coaches’ vote later this week. He has won it before at LSU and a couple of times at Alabama. I don’t think another plaque is high on his personal wish list. He already has a statue outside his home stadium and is such a sure-fire selection to the College Football Hall of Fame that, upon his retirement, they will have to build another wing on the new HOF building in Atlanta.

I hear the arguments all the time — Alabama has the best players (Saban recruited them) and the best facilities (Mal Moore started that work but Saban has been the fuel that has driven 10 more years of building.) At some point, though, someone needs to tap their dinner fork on their water glass along the banquet circuit and make this point.

Alabama in 2018, under Nick Saban, has had as good a year as it is possible to have, up until this point. Despite injuries, staff turnover and a quarterback controversy/non-controversy, Alabama went through league play undefeated and, in the regular season, essentially unchallenged. In the championship game, his team overcame a two-touchdown second half deficit to win his sixth SEC title at Alabama. For whatever reason — maybe sheer voter fatigue — that didn’t earn him any Coach of the Year honors. But fairness dictates that someone mention it, along with this point: Saban coaches with no margin for error. Kentucky — and, again, this is no argument against Mark Stoops, just a fact — came out flat after its emotional loss to Georgia and was drubbed by Tennessee. Those things happen. But if the down week happens to a Saban-coached team, Alabama is expected to win anyway. He is always breathing the thin air of the loftiest of altitudes, a Mount Everest of expectations.

None of that is going to generate any sympathy for Saban, who wouldn’t want it anyway. He gets plenty of praise, boundless ESPN exposure and national recognition. But when you consider that he has won the AP National Coach of the Year once at Alabama, in 2008, and hasn’t won it again despite coaching UA to five national championships since then, you realize that it come down to this.

The Coach of the Year awards are going to guys who magically find a unicorn in the woods. Nick Saban isn’t going to get much credit for running the unicorn farm.

 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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