The Biggest Post Saban Problem Needs to Talked About Now
By: Larry Burton
Nick Saban is under contract until 2025 and he may coach beyond that. The truth is, nobody, maybe not even Nick Saban himself, knows the date that he may retire. But when he does, Alabama needs to be reminded of past problems because as the old saying from George Santayana goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The history we want Alabama fans to remember is that part of history when another Alabama coaching legend retired. That man was coach Paul Bear Bryant and when he retired, Alabama fans and school officials were simply not willing to let that era die and insisted that his replacement be “one of Bear’s boys”. To be considered, you had to have either played for or coached with the Bear.
That fiasco of thought brought Alabama such coaches as Raymond Perkins, who lasted three years with just a .677 winning percentage. Since that didn’t work, they did turn to “the hot coach” at the time and hired Bill Curry who the fans as a whole simply hated. Though his winning percentage was a respectable .722, he never beat Auburn in his quick three year stint and was promptly gone.
So the feeling was that they must have one of “Bear’s boys” and they went out and hired Gene Stallings despite the fact he had never really been successful as a head coach to that point. Stalling’s six years saw him win just over 70% of his games until being forced out for getting the school in trouble with the NCAA. He did however have one SEC and national championship year for the 1992 season.
In trouble with the NCAA, the Tide turned to defensive coordinator Mike Dubose who had played for the Bear and coached under Stallings. Dubose had two disastrous years and an out of court settlement for a sexual affair with his secretary, Dubose almost righted the ship defeating Auburn and Florida twice in the same year for an SEC Championship. However he followed that up with a 3-8 season, one of Alabama’s worst seasons ever in the modern era. Not only did his record suck but under his reign, Alabama was back in trouble with the NCAA. He finished with a dismal 50% win rate.
Now here was Alabama in 2001, 19 years in the post Bear era, just two bright spots in that time, three of “Bears boys” who didn’t post great overall records and two coaches whose time there resulted in severe NCAA sanctions. Clearly the hiring of people who had a Bear Bryant connection was not the answer to keep that Bear Bryant era going.
And even though the powers that be finally ditched that idea, the Dennis Franchione, Mike Price and Mike Shula hires didn’t produce winners either. It wasn’t until 2007, 25 years post Bear, that they had a coach that didn’t disappoint, that didn’t put them in trouble with the NCAA and that did build an era equal to if not greater than the one Bryant built.
But because the Saban era was and continues to be so great, will Alabama fans and the powers that be demand that coach who replaces Saban be one of “Saban’s sons”? We can only hope not. Nick Saban has told us that he never even met coach Bryant and of course Saban never played at Alabama and had no ties to anyone at this school and of course that seems to have worked out pretty good.
I was once in the room with coach Saban and bunch of Alumnis when I was asked, “If coach Saban were hit by a bus today, who would you want to take over here?” and without hesitation said, “Coach James Franklin, he’d kill it with all Alabama has to offer.” Coach Saban overhead that and said he’d better not stand on a street with a bus coming if I’m nearby because it sounds like something he’s been thinking about. Of course he said that with a smile. But my philosophy is that we go after the best coach possible, not just someone with a Saban lineage.
Mal Moore, who I will always count as a friend of mine, said there just wasn’t any doubt in his mind that Saban was the right man and that’s who he got. There was just no saying no to Mal, he was as tenacious a stubborn mule. Let’s just hope the next man that has to make that decision has the foresight and gumption to not be swayed by what the fans want, by someone the administrators feel comfortable with or who the press says we should hire and just get the best guy available.
Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter