TAMPA — Dabo Swinney told University of Alabama coach Nick Saban back in March: See you in Tampa.
He was right. The two head coaches are about to face off in a College Football Playoff National Championship rematch when Alabama and Clemson clash on Monday.
“If I was going to pick who the two best teams are, I would say the two best teams are here,” Saban said Sunday. “That’s the way it should be.”
Last season, the Crimson Tide walked away with its 16th title. The Tigers have only ever won one, and it wasn’t with Swinney calling the shots. It was back in 1981 under coach Danny Ford. Clemson finished that season undefeated, which is exactly wait Alabama has a shot at doing once again.
UA hasn’t reached that level of flawlessness since 2009, its first championship since Saban took over just two years prior. Swinney believes Alabama was in a state of flux when Saban got there.
“He has brought a system and a philosophy, and it didn’t take him long to get it in place,” Swinney said.
What he’s referring to is Saban’s “Process.”
“But he’s changed college football,” Swinney said. “I mean, he really has been a pioneer and changed a lot of the way things are done in college football, in building infrastructure, which I think are great, because now you have young people that have a lot more resources.”
The highest Alabama was ranked during Saban’s debut season was 16th. The following year it spent time at No. 1 after starting out as No. 24 in the preseason poll. From there, the Crimson Tide took off.
Adding to its 2009 winner, UA closed out the 2011, 2012 and 2015 seasons on top. Saban has won four national championships with Alabama. He has five titles total, holding one from his stint at LSU.
“With what Coach Saban has done, the amount of championships in the span of times with scholarships, it’s just incredible,” Swinney said. “I really have no words, because it’s really hard to do.”
There’s only one person who won more championships than Saban: Paul W. “Bear” Bryant has a record six titles to his name. His name will always be known in the college football realm, coaching at UA from 1959-82. That’s 25 years.
After just 10 years, Saban is closing in on the legendary late Alabama coach. Except he refuses to think of it that way and even said he’d vote for Bryant as the greatest college coach of all time. He isn’t worried about claiming the title himself – at all.
What’s important to Saban is Monday’s game. That’s it.
“I think if you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Saban said.
After back-to-back national championship appearances, Swinney understands how much effort and dedication it takes to consistently compete at a high level. He’s impressed by how long Saban has kept it up. Alabama has had a strong staff and roster year after year, despite losing recruits and coaches to other schools.
Still, nothing has stopped the Crimson Tide. It’s almost unbelievable.
“Just incredible the run that they’ve had, no question,” Swinney said.