John Clay

John Clay: Why Saban is better than the Bear

Alabama head coach Nick Saban looks on before the start of an NCAA college football game between Alabama and Tennessee on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Alabama head coach Nick Saban looks on before the start of an NCAA college football game between Alabama and Tennessee on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne) ASSOCIATED PRESS

HOOVER, Ala. — Nick Saban didn't want any part of it. No sir. Not a bit. It's not part of his beloved process to get caught up in this media fascination with lists and legends.

Thursday, the final day of SEC Football Media Days, Saban got the Bear Bryant question. The comparison question. The who's-the-better-coach question. In Saban's view, the silly question.

"I don't think I have any reason that anybody should do that," said the current Alabama coach about comparisons to the former Alabama coach.

Actually, there is a reason. Actually, they should ask the question and reach this conclusion: Saban is better.

In some circles the notion that Saban has somehow out-Beared the Bear is pure blasphemy. And perhaps Saban's hat-tip to modesty was a politically correct response in the land of the man who made Houndstooth a status symbol.

To traditionalists, especially Southern football traditionalists, Bryant is the best that's ever been, a larger-than-life figure who coached the game when men were men and records were not made to be broken.

There was and remains an aura around "The Bear," who made his name at a time when college football meant Rockne and Grange as opposed to College GameDay.

"I think Bear Bryant is probably the greatest coach in college football in terms of what he accomplished, what his legacy is," Saban said Thursday.

Yes, before retiring at age 69, Bryant won six national championships. The 61-year-old Saban has won four.

It took Bryant 25 years at Alabama to win those titles. In six years at Alabama, Saban has won three national titles. Those three came in the past four seasons, the last two back-to-back.

And the media at this event made the Tide the overwhelming favorite to put itself in prime position again by winning the conference crown.

"There's no way that we have done anything close to what he's done in terms of consistency over time, how he changed what he did to impact the times," argued Saban. "They threw the ball and won. They ran the wishbone and won. I mean he changed tremendously to do what he needed to do to be successful."

You can make a counter argument that it is tougher to win in this day and age. There was not a limit of 85 scholarships in Bryant's day. There was no such thing as a compliance office. There was not a BCS playoff. The Bear didn't have to worry about an SEC title game.

For many of Bryant's years at Alabama, the Crimson Tide played all of six conference games. Consider that Saban has always played eight in what is now a 14-team league and the Bama coach says he is in favor of expanding that to nine.

To be sure, Bryant wrote success stories at Kentucky and Texas A&M. When he returned to his alma mater in 1958, Bryant took over a major rebuilding project. His predecessor, Ears Whitworth, won four games in three seasons.

The Bear didn't win a national title elsewhere, however, as Saban did at LSU in 2003. (Sorry, I'm not counting UK's "computer" title under Bryant in 1950.) And Bryant never attended an SEC Football Media Days covered by a record 1,239 members of the media as Saban did this year.

That's the point. The game is so much bigger now. There is so much more money. And when there's more money there's more competition, more pressure, more players, more people trying to find a way to win.

The sum of all that should be parity. Not lately. Not in the age of Saban.

No team in college basketball has won more than two national titles in the past 14 years. And yet, in football, Alabama has people using the D-word for dynasty.

When the pre-season polls are announced next month, look for Bama to be favored to win Saban's fifth national crown.

It is true The Bear set the standard.

Says here, however, that Saban has surpassed it.


Four national titles, includingthree in his six years at alabama

Won in sec title game era

Won via bcs championship game

Eight sec games on schedule

Scholarships limited to 85


Six national titles in 25 yearsat alabama

No sec title game during his era

Just six sec games on schedule

Titles conveyed by ap or coaches' vote

No scholarship limits until 1972* (*105)

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