OPINION: The 2023 CFP National Championship Game will bring back old Nick Saban
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DISCLOSURE: This is an opinionated piece.
Experience is always the best teacher: a thought shared by the masses.
However, another teacher is about to restore Nick Saban to what he was as Alabama’s head football coach from 2009 to 2017.
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Friction has a way of pulling the best out of us when we need it. Alabama got competition from the University of Florida when Coach Saban started his run of national championships. Urban Meyer had the Gators as the team of dynasty after winning two BCS National Championships with Tim Tebow in 2006 and 2008. Florida was heavily favored to win it all in 2009; however, Saban decided to usurp Meyer and make Tuscaloosa (Ala.) the new place of college football. The Crimson Tide held the crown for 10+ years, and Saban did it by being intense, passionate, meticulous, holding others accountable, and wanting perfection.
Alabama suffered losses to Clemson in two different College Football Playoff National Championship Games, but you saw the core values of Tide football in place. We have not seen those values in the last two years, and now Kirby Smart has delivered back-to-back CFP National Championships to Georgia. The friction Dabo Swinney and Clemson provided did not stick, but Smart’s emergence has the world’s attention. Georgia looks like Alabama did from 2009 to 2015. The Bulldogs don’t have a trendsetter at quarterback, but Stetson Bennett did his job and is a two-time national champion. Georgia has physical players on its offensive line, powerful running backs that wear defenses down, balance in its play-calling, and a defense that murders everything in its path. If the Bulldogs can achieve the elusive three-peat, talks of “dynasty” become legit. Saban is proud to see his protégé be successful, but he is ultra-competitive.
The 71-year-old has always stated he would leave the game when he can no longer be effective at winning at the highest and molding young men. This offseason becomes the most important of Saban’s tenure with the Crimson Tide.
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After experimenting with a kinder, gentler Saban for two years, Alabama needs the fiery, aggressive perfectionist to return.
He will deal with national media calling Georgia the “new king of college football” all offseason, but Saban can disrupt the Bulldogs’ momentum with a national championship next fall. He has brought in hungry players in this recruiting cycle, and Alabama has leaders returning, yet Saban must change the coaching staff. Several distinguished and credible people I spoke with in New Orleans for the Allstate Sugar Bowl said Alabama had the players to win a championship but not the coaches.
Coach Smart has five-star generals on his staff when one discusses Todd Monken (offensive coordinator), Glenn Schumann (co-defensive coordinator), Will Muschamp (co-defensive coordinator), and Scott Cochran (special teams coach).
Players perform to the personality of their coaches. Everyone on Smart’s staff, primarily his defensive staff, is passionate, fiery, energetic, and focused on winning. Georgia players will run through a wall for Smart, Schumann, Muschamp, and Cochran.
Will Alabama players run through a wall for Bill O’Brien and Pete Golding?
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No, because they do not have a reason to.
Golding does not have defensive players in spots to be consistently successful, and O’Brien does not provide a balanced, free-flowing offense. The numbers say Alabama has a top-10 defense, but our eyes say differently. Saban must see the defensive product has steadily decreased since Smart and Jeremy Pruitt left. Opponents would get mentally defeated upon seeing the Tide on its schedule, but now they want to play Alabama. It was unheard of to think a team could rush for 100+ yards on Alabama, but they are doing it at will now. The mental edge that Saban and Alabama football had on opponents is in danger as everyone has caught up. No one knows what Saban’s musical taste is, but Drake’s song “Headlines” should be his soundtrack this offseason.
A verse he needs to have on a loop is, “I had someone tell me I feel off. Ooh, I needed that. And they want to see me pick it back up, but where did I leave it at.” Saban left Alabama’s mentality in 2017, and it needs to return. Whether hiring former players to restore the culture, making changes to the coaching staff, or both, he must regain the edge of the Tide as the top program.
Georgia’s second straight national title should return Saban to his old self.
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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.