I’m seeing a lot of these “SEC East schools are stupid for hiring Saban disciples” pieces lately. This is pretty common reasoning:
The two most productive branches of his coaching tree have gone to conferences other than the SEC: Mark Dantonio and Jimbo Fisher have built programs at Michigan State and Florida State. Meanwhile, the SEC’s subsequent efforts to “find the next Saban” have been fruitless, and as long as Saban is on top, he shows no signs of letting a former assistant get the best of him or build a program that lunges past Alabama as the SEC’s standard-bearer.
And yet, SEC programs — exclusively those in the East — keep on hiring them in hopes of making it happen.
The logic isn’t necessarily faulty. Time and a mountain of examples have simply exposed the strategy as specious at best and foolhardy at worst. Hiring a Saban assistant is like playing Texas hold’em, knowing your opponent is holding pocket kings and going all in with a suited jack and queen anyway. You’ve still got a pretty good hand, but what chance do you have at knocking off the big stack at the table?
“Maybe if we hire someone who knows how he ticks, we’ll find a way to beat him.”
In reality, the reverse appears to be far more accurate. The idea that Saban’s reign as the king of the SEC — and really, college football — will end at the hands of a protégé looks sillier by the day. In fact, the next time a Saban assistant beats him head-to-head will be the first. They’ve all come up empty in nine tries.
Oh for nine… case closed, I suppose.
Certainly that’s not a good track record, but let’s not pretend the rest of the world is doing much better. Saban’s record at Alabama now stands at 114-19, with six of those losses coming in his first season there. In other words, his teams have lost a grand total of thirteen games in their last nine seasons.
Never mind that. Ubben has some tough love for Florida and Georgia on the subject.
Florida football (and underachieving Georgia, while we’re on the subject) does not exist to win division titles and be subsequently sacrificed at the altar of Saban in Atlanta on the first Saturday of December. It’s cause to wonder if those in charge of hiring have paid any attention to the parade of swings and misses at dethroning Saban — or the haymakers that have caused his empire to wobble, even if those wobbles were ever so slight.
That’s not really as good a question as it sounds. Alabama is dominant because of resources. If you want to go toe-to-toe with the Tide, you’d best not be lagging behind in the recruiting department. (A lesson that Kirby Smart grasps more firmly than does Jim McElwain, it seems.) That’s how Ohio State managed the trick.
Just as importantly, if you want to beat Alabama, you’d better have a transcendent quarterback. Think of some of the teams that have notched wins over the years: Auburn, with Cam and Nick Marshall; Texas A&M, with Manziel; Clemson, with Watson. Does anyone in the SEC have comparable talent at the position right now? (That’s a rhetorical question, peeps.)
While I question the decision making that led Georgia to hire someone without any previous head coaching experience, I’m not stubborn enough to say Smart should have been disqualified merely for having been a Saban assistant. If anyone knows where the weak points in Tuscaloosa are, it should be Kirby Smart. As to whether that’s enough to bring Georgia to Alabama’s level, give me a couple more recruiting classes and a couple more years of quarterback development to see.