No one knew.
No one knew for certain 10 years ago that Alabama was on the verge of another Golden Age, that a plane landing on a Tarmac in Tuscaloosa was bringing not just a talented football coach – everyone knew that – but that the coach would ring another era of dominance, the third or fourth or fifth for UA, depending on how you calculate some things. There is no universal method since it isn’t an issue for most schools. No one can be sure such things are destiny.
What some people did know, even a decade ago, was there was no other candidate available like Nick Saban. Even while the decision to make a coaching change was still being debated, there was a faction of strong Saban support in Mal Moore’s ear. Their categorization was that Saban was such an “absolute coaching machine” that Alabama needed to pursue him as long as there was a glimmer of hope that he would leave the NFL. That support remained steadfast through the tumult of a coaching search. Not everyone was in favor of pushing the panic button to pursue Rich Rodriguez. When Rodriguez wavered about remaining at West Virginia, they urged Moore not to make any countering offers, certainly not for a coach who couldn’t decide that Tuscaloosa was a better career choice than Morgantown. When luck had it that Rodriguez declined the hasty offer, patience became the watchword.
Hiring a proven head coach in his prime is never easy. People tend not to grasp that when they see prime-seeming jobs at the top tier of the Power Five filled by less-than-guaranteed hires. But who can offer guarantees? What coaches are at that level today? Saban and Urban Meyer, and maybe, at the next tier, Bob Stoops, Jim Harbaugh, Chris Petersen, Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher.
Think of it this way: the University of Texas, awash in money and tradition, is elated over the hiring of Tom Herman. And there is nothing wrong with that. But, for all his promise, how does Herman’s resume compare with Saban’s, even his 2007 bona fides? As much as Alabama fans revere the UA program, the fact is that Alabama has made two such transcendent coaching hires in its history. One of those was an alum. But those two, Paul W. “Bear” Bryant and Nick Saban, put Alabama far ahead of the curve. Both came wearing large boots at a time when the Alabama program needed a kick in the pants.
Beyond that, it’s pointless to compare the greatness of geniuses. Human nature seems to require us to make a definitive statement about who was better, Mozart or Beethoven. In sports, with a scoreboard in its DNA, that seems even more necessary. But judging a competition without context is impossible. The fair statement is that both coaches, Saban and Bryant, were (or are) better than anyone at what they do at the time they are (or were) doing it.
No one knew, 10 years ago, no matter what they claim 10 years after. Not even Nick Saban knew. Certainly, he came on the scene with confidence. But no one can be sure of circumstances. The Dolphins experiment taught him that, or reinforced what he already knew. There was, however, a chance. Alabama was a place where it had been done before, and it’s fair to assume that Saban believed that if someone else could do it, then so could he.
Will it last forever? Of course not. But this isn’t the time to ponder the future, but to recognize the greatness of a decade – and, if you’re an Alabama fan, to be grateful that it worked out so incredibly well.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.