In discussing rags to riches stories, people often reflect back to musicians, celebrities or athletes who have persevered from a humbling background to become a pinnacle of society. Everyone has that moment in life to which they want to achieve greatness and won’t allow anyone or anything to stand in their way of capturing it.
Despite Alabama being founded in 1831, the road to greatness began in 1923. From 1923-30, the Crimson Tide football program was under the leadership of head coach Wallace Wade. After posting an undefeated 15-0-2 record with Vanderbilt, Wade built a powerhouse in seven seasons with Alabama. Under Wade, the Tide notched three national titles (1925, 1926 and 1930) appearing in the Rose Bowl. At that time, the Rose Bowl determined the national champion.
In 1931, Wade shocked the world by leaving Alabama to become the head coach of Duke. Regardless of the lack of football passion at Duke than Alabama, Wade decided that his football philosophy would be better suited there. While Wade settled in Durham, North Carolina, the Tide’s ram in the bush was Frank Thomas.
At the University of Chattanooga, Thomas compiled a record of 26-9-2 in four seasons. No drop off in production occurred from Wade to Thomas. Thomas established himself as one of the top coaches in the nation at Alabama. In 15 seasons (1931-46), Thomas guided the Tide to a 4-2 bowl record, including winning national titles in 1935 (1934 season) and 1942 (1941 season). Alabama appeared in the Rose Bowl (1935 & 1942), Cotton Bowl Classic (1942) and the Orange Bowl (1943). They won all four matchups under Thomas.
Along with taking home national titles, Thomas made sure that his own conference was in order first. The Crimson Tide won four Southeastern Conference titles (1933-34, 1937, 1945) with him at the helm and Thomas achieved an SEC Coach of the Year Award in 1945.
One can’t begin the phrase “Alabama Football” without including one person, Paul W. “Bear” Bryant. Before Bryant became a legend, he was coached and mentored by Thomas. Despite being a gifted athlete, Bryant took brains over brawn and used his mind to develop the minds of young athletes on the field as a head coach.
At Kentucky and Texas A&M, Bryant was stellar. For the Wildcats, he was the best thing in Kentucky since fried chicken. Outside of agriculture, Bryant was the best thing moving for the Aggies. Though he accomplished a ton of success with Kentucky and Texas A&M, Bryant saved his best coaching performance for Alabama. His reason for returning to his alma mater was “Momma called. And when Momma calls, you just have to come runnin’.”
Bryant answered the call in 1958 as he took over as the Tide’s head coach. Prior to Bryant’s arrival, Alabama won just four games in three seasons. After posting a 5-4-1 record in his first season and defeating Auburn in the renewed Iron Bowl in 1959, people started to sense something special about Bryant. Just like players who step up in key moments and games to achieve certain awards, coaches have to step up and prove that they were the right person for the job.
The year 1961 became the year of recognition for Bryant and would start the dominance of Alabama’s football program. Under Bryant, quarterback Pat Trammell, Lee Roy Jordan and Billy Neighbors, the Crimson Tide went undefeated (11-0). They defeated Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl and captured its first national title.
While most people are content with tasting success once, Bryant wasn’t done. From 1962-64, the Tide was set out to prove that it was the best program in college football. With Bryant calling the shots and Joe Namath under center, Alabama couldn’t be stopped. The Crimson Tide won the Orange Bowl (1962), Sugar Bowl (1963) and captured its second national title in 1964. Alabama would hoist up another national title in 1965, after defeating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
Despite going undefeated in 1966 and defeating Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl 34-7, the Tide finished third in the nation behind Michigan State and Notre Dame. What makes a rags to riches story successful is when you go through difficult times, but still manage to come back better and stronger. In 1967, many people coined Alabama as the team to beat and just knew the Tide would bring home another title.
Unlike Namath, Kenny Stabler couldn’t help Alabama bring home a national title. The prior success Bryant had started to elude him. After finishing 8-2-1 (1967), 8-3 (1968), 6-5 (1969) and 6-5-1 (1970), many Crimson Tide fans began to wander was this the end of an era. Bryant also thought he was washed up and wanted to consider retiring or coaching in the NFL.
Ever resilient, Bryant poised for one more push to prove that he was still the best in the game. He racked up three more national titles (1973, 1978 and 1979) and captured 13 SEC titles. Upon his retirement in 1982, Bryant was the winningest coach in football with 323 wins.
In Marshall Matthers “Eminem” song Beautiful, he references that when he leaves the rap game, he will be a tough act to follow. This statement can be said true about Bryant. After his retirement in 1982, Bryant left some huge shoes for Alabama coaches to follow, especially Bill Curry.
Despite posting a 26-10 record in three seasons (1987-89), Alabama never defeated Auburn under Curry. Though the Tide won a share of the SEC title in 1989 and made bowl appearances in Curry’s three seasons, Alabama was 0-3 against the Tigers.
If it took Bryant to put Alabama on the map, then it had to take a Bryant disciple to keep them there, right? In Gene Stallings case, the answer is yes. Stallings took over for Curry in 1990 and though he was no Bear Bryant, Stallings knew what the people of Alabama wanted. In six seasons (1990-96), Stallings placed the Tide back atop the ranks of college football glory.
Alabama captured four SEC West titles (1992, 1993, 1994 and 1996), an SEC title (1992) and its first national title since Bryant in 1993. Sometimes, when there is success, there is also controversy. In 1995, the NCAA found Alabama guilty of violating four major rules. As a result, the Tide was placed on three years’ probation and docked 30 scholarships. Alabama had to forfeit eight wins from its 9-3-1 1993 season and they were also barred from postseason competition.
In the 10 seasons following Stallings’s departure, Crimson Tide fans experienced many emotions. The evident ones were anger, disappointment, frustration and agony. From 1997-06, Alabama went through five different coaches (Mike DuBose, Dennis Franhoine, Mike Price, Mike Shula and Joe Kines). Though some of them tried their best to get the Tide back to where Bryant, Stallings and others had them, Alabama fell from the pinnacle of football greatness to the bottom of the barrel.
Hope came to Alabama in 2007 as Nick Saban made landfall in Tuscaloosa. Like Moses parting the Red Sea, fans poured into the Mal Moore Athletic Facility anticipating whether Saban could be the guy that can lead the Tide back to prominence. Saban was told by fans and others that it would take him six years before he wins his first title with Alabama.
Lo and behold in seven seasons, Saban has achieved three national titles with the Tide and is in route of a fourth. It hasn’t been easy for him. He’s had to get the right players to buy in his system “The Process,” along with dealing with a devastating tornado that destroyed the lives and possessions of many citizens in Tuscaloosa. Through the high and lows, Saban has managed to not only keep himself composed, but also his team.
Along with winning titles, Saban has become the best recruiter in the game. He’s brought in some of the most talented players to Alabama from Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Julio Jones to Courtney Upshaw and Terrence Cody
In 2011, Saban hand chose AJ McCarron as his quarterback. The journey to success hasn’t been easy for these two, but in just three seasons Saban has molded McCarron from game manager to leader. McCarron has achieved two national titles as a starting quarterback and is eyeing a third one with possibly a Heisman Trophy this season.
Earlier in the semester, an article appeared in The Crimson White, stating Alabama fans were getting tired of winning. To most fans, the article was unnecessary. Before Saban, the Tide couldn’t buy a win. Since Saban has come in and recruited well, fans have been spoiled by championships and many of them don’t attend a lot of games now.
It’s understandable that you would want your team to play more close games instead of blowouts, but when a team comes from mediocrity to greatness you should be very excited. While Alabama is in the middle of a dynasty and Saban trying to catch Bryant, fans can only wonder what will happen to the team once Saban retires.