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Sports Authority

Klaus: Saban is best college coach of all-time

| Wednesday, January 13, 2016

On Monday night, much to the displeasure of most college football fans, Alabama won yet another national championship — their fourth since 2009 — by defeating previously undefeated Clemson, 45-40.

As has been the case for all of the Crimson Tide’s recent titles, head coach Nick Saban was the first to hoist Alabama’s championship trophy, which happened to be the fifth he has earned as a college head coach (the other being with LSU during the 2003 season). After earning his fifth title, Saban established himself as a candidate for the best college football coach of all-time.

Statistically, Saban’s five titles are tied for the second most ever by a head coach with former Yale and USC coach Howard Jones and former Minnesota coach Bernie Bierman, both of whom peaked in the 1930s with five titles apiece. Of course, former Alabama legend Paul “Bear” Bryant technically still has a numerical edge over Saban, having earned six titles over the course of his career.

While many fans, including Alabama fans, may point to this statistic as evidence that Saban is not superior to Bryant, the truth is that Saban surpassing Bryant’s total is meaningless in the debate distinguishing between the two coaches. Simply put, Saban’s five titles in the modern era are far more impressive than what Bryant accomplished decades ago.

In addition to the incontrovertible fact that parity in college football is far more present in today’s game than in the past, making both winning games and recruiting much more difficult, the less decisive manner for discerning championships during Bryant’s era certainly makes his case far less impressive as well.

Despite how controversial the BCS and the College Football Playoff have been at times, they were both unequivocally better ways for selecting a champion than school’s claiming their own titles, which was the case when Bryant coached. Because of this, two of Bryant’s championship seasons actually ended with bowl losses. And while some of Saban’s teams have had losses of their own, it is particularly dubious to convincingly call a team that ended its season with a loss a champion.

In addition to this unconvincing manner of awarding titles, the aforementioned parity that exists in today’s game as well as the more demanding contemporary way of earning championships should earn Saban the authorative title as college football’s best coach ever. For example, none of Bryant’s teams had to play more than 12 games while Saban’s have had to play at least 14 games three times and 15 games this season.

Some may discount Saban’s success and championships because of the obvious flaws in the BCS that allowed him a rematch with LSU in 2011 or the stranglehold that he has on college recruiting that consistently allows him to bring in top classes annually, but it is undeniable that Saban has made the most of championship game opportunities, having never lost a championship game in his career.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Dave Angelotti

    I think you should do a bit of research in your own back yard and look at what Frank Leahy did at ND. When Saban takes a team to 4 undefeated seasons in a row and 3 titles (which should have been four in a row) we can have a discussion about Saban being better than Leahy.