SAN JOSE, Calif. — Every national championship game has stakes all its own. National champions become part of history in their own right.
But each coach in Monday night’s game has his own milestone on the line. Alabama coach Nick Saban could win his sixth championship at the Capstone, tying legendary Coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant. It would be his seventh championship overall, the most of any major college football coach.
“That doesn’t really enter into it in my mind,” Saban said. “I don’t ever even think about that at all. I do think a lot about trying to make and help this team to be the best possible — and to put them in the best possible position to have a chance to be successful.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, a former Alabama walk-on receiver, would be just the second active head coach with multiple national championships. Former Ohio State and Florida coach Urban Meyer retired at the end of the season, taking his three championship seasons with him.
“As a coach, we’re always studying and trying to learn from every program, and Alabama has certainly been the standard for a decade or so since (Saban has) been there,” Swinney said. “So I’ve learned lots of things. Sometimes it could just be maybe how he handles a situation. I’ve called on him a time or two to ask him his opinion on some things, and we’ve swapped some ideas. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to learn.”
Swinney, at 49 years old, is three years younger than Saban was when he won his first championship at LSU. He’s nine years younger than when Saban won his second championship at the end of the 2009 season, starting the current Alabama dynasty.
That season was also Swinney’s first full season as Clemson head coach. He’s built his own powerhouse program in the last 10 years. The Tigers have chased Alabama and beaten the Crimson Tide before. A win on Monday would make him 2-1 in national championship games against Alabama.
“You’re talking about a program that I have a deep love and respect for, always have, always will, and a coach that’s — I mean, he’s won six national championships and the level of consistency is a model and an aspiration for every program,” Swinney said.
The winner on Monday will also be the first team to complete an undefeated season in the College Football Playoff era. Clemson had that chance in 2015 and Alabama came within one play of finishing a perfect season in 2016.
“Regardless of what happens tomorrow night, this is two great teams,” Swinney said. “Somebody is going to win and somebody is going to lose. Both teams are going to play their hearts out.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.