Finding the next Saban

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.

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52 Comments

Filed under Georgia Football, Nick Saban Rules

52 responses to “Finding the next Saban

  1. Nick Marshall wasn’t anywhere close to the other 3. It took the flukiest of all plays to beat Bama in 2013. Hell, Ole Miss beat the Tide twice with 2 different QBs. Bo Wallace won one of those. To beat Bama, you have to execute almost perfectly, hold up against their lines of scrimmage, and get a little luck with turnovers or special teams. If a transcendent QB was all it took, Mississippi State with Dak Prescott would have beaten Bama multiple times.

    In other words, that article was more lazy sports journalism.

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    • If a transcendent QB was all it took, Mississippi State with Dak Prescott would have beaten Bama multiple times.

      Dak’s passer ratings in his three years as a starter: 126.58, 151.72 and 151.01. In his two starts against ‘Bama, it was under 110.

      Not exactly what I would call transcendent, but YMMV.

      By the way Marshall’s passer ratings against Alabama were 170.24 and 160.93.

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      • Nick Marshall couldn’t hold Prescott’s jock strap. Marshall was the beneficiary of a better supporting cast around him and a hell of a lot of luck. There’s a reason Dallas decided it was ok to encourage Tony Romo to retire.

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        • Nick Marshall was perfect for his system. That’s all that matters. Johnny Manziel was a trainwreck in the NFL but at Texas A&M in that system he was amazing. You can be an amazing system QB in college (Marshall is a perfect example… Tommie Frazier is another). So just because Dak is one his way to a good pro career doesn’t mean Marshall couldn’t have been great for Auburn.

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          • Manziel was a train wreck in the NFL because he’s a train wreck as a person. The Browns drafted him on persona and to put butts in the seats rather than really evaluating whether he had the physical and mental ability to play QB in the NFL.

            Marshall may have been perfect for his system, but to call him a transcendent QB is a bit of a stretch IMO. $Cam was transcendent … he would have been successful regardless of what system he was placed in. Tommie Frazier was an incredible college QB and a perfect fit for the system. Once again, Nick Marshall wasn’t that type of player. Good QB in the perfect system for his skills? Yes. Transcendent QB to be mentioned with Newton, Manziel & Watson? IMO, no.

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  2. heyberto

    When hiring a guy because they soaked up some of that Saban coaching moxie… I think there’s a big difference in a guy like Kirby, who was clearly groomed by Saban, and some of these guys that just worked on his staff for a short period. Point is, I think the Saban assistant thing in the sports media is probably overblown anyway because some of these guys weren’t necessarily hired because they just happened to be on his staff at some point.

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    • Jared S.

      I agree with all your points. Also, while Florida has been embarrassed the last two years in the SECCG I think it had more to do with a huge talent gap than with the fact that Ol’ Jim can’t coach. He clearly can.

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    • What I find funny is this is how the world works. The No. 2 at Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc… is often hired to be a No. 1 at a major company.

      Hell, the B12, where David Ubben is based, has hired plenty of Stoops’ tree with varying levels of success. There’s nothing unusual about what the SEC East is doing. The difference is. as the Senator said, you better add insane levels of support to the hire if you want to even attempt to replicate Bama. Simply hiring Saban’s No. 2 and then spending in similar ways or doing things as they were done before isn’t going to cut it.

      I also find it funny that Mac is being used as proof of the folly of hiring a Saban assistant. Dude won 10 games at CSU as a head coach and has won the East 2/2 times. If that’s what a bad example looks like I can only hope Kirby is a mediocre example.

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      • DawgPhan

        You like Marrisa Mayer being hired to run Yahoo and then subsequently running that company straight into the ground.

        I actually can’t think of a top exec from Apple that has left and been more successful than apple.

        Not a lot of google execs have left and are more successful than google.

        Any Microsoft execs that are now more successful that Microsoft?

        So how is UGA going to be better than Bama by hiring someone that wasnt fit to run bama?

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      • heyberto

        I think the big thing Kirby is applying from his years under Saban is recruiting philosophy. I’m sure there are other things that he’s bringing to the program, but I think that’s the biggest, and it’s what everyone seems to be pointing to as the best hope for future success on the field. Given the importance on getting the best players leads to success on the national stage.. I think that’s reasonable from where we are today.

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  3. If UGA can follow Eason and Fromm with Fields, your point about a transcendent quarterback will have a very good chance to come to fruition

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  4. 'Ol Gill

    Jesus. It’s not 2004 so we can cool it with clumsy poker comparisons. It’s a pretty easy concept to understand without having to bring suited connectors into the equation. I half expected that link to be a Clay Travis article comparing Kevin Sumlin to Phil Ivey and talking about how you can see how great a poker player is by looking at his wife.

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  5. MGW

    Saban is an excellent coach, without a doubt, but he’s also a product of unlimited resources and an excellent administration that understands what it takes on their part to win. I think the biggest reason his proteges haven’t had success is that the AD’s making the hire were too prideful to acknowledge the part the Alabama administration has played in that success. Its administrative hubris more than anything. They think the only difference between them and Bama is Saban.

    Their thought is something like this: “Well we’ve done our part (see look at all our money), now all we need is to plug in a competent coach and this thing’ll take off like a rocket. Those lucky ass holes at Bama have Saban, so lets go get one of those and we’re set.”

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    • Greg

      agree….always wondered how Spurrier would have done there. Also think that kind of support at Georgia would have added another MNC or two.

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      • Spurrier with the support of the Alabama football apparatus would have been devastating. Even Bear Bryant allegedly said that everyone else would be playing for 2nd place if Florida ever got their act together and hired the right coach. They did in 1990, and the program immediately rose from also-ran underachiever to elite.

        I always wonder what would have happened in 1989 if we had called Steve Spurrier in Durham instead of Dick Sheridan in Raleigh.

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        • Greg

          Yeah, same here….but I bet his brashness & the administration would not go together to well. I would have loved to seen it though.

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  6. CVegas Dawg

    This is a ridiculous argument in my mind. Why would you not want to hire from the most successful program in College Football? I don’t think UGA or FU or any other uni who is hiring assistants from Bama is thinking “we will steal the guy that will make Bama crumble.” I think people are hiring from the Bama program and hoping that the new hire will bring the template/the secret sauce on how the Bama program is run so it can be implemented at the new location. Maybe I’m naive, but isn’t the same logic used in the NFL with hiring from the “Belichick tree?”

    Liked by 1 person

    • MGW

      I don’t think anyone believes hiring out from under Saban will make his program crumble, but they do want that secret sauce. The problem is they think its some secret strictly from the head coach down to the players. They tend to ignore the necessity for carte blanche administrative support.

      Saban’s a “program” guy, whereas someone like Meyer is a “team” guy. You plug a Meyer, Mullen, Herman into any program, and that team is going to improve (within the limitations of the program). You plug a Saban disciple into a program, and that program has to change from the top down for improvement to show on the team level.

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      • MGW

        And to McGarrity’s credit (or whoever is pulling his strings), it does appear that Smart is getting the support he is asking for. If its possible to do “Saban style” at Georgia, we’re going to find out soon.

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  7. Hal Welch

    The article is based on some serious false logic based on three simple principles, a couple of which you already hit on but I’ll put another way:
    1) Saban is simply the best college football coach in America right now and the second best one really isn’t all that close. I live in Clemson and of course they want to trot out Dabo right now. Dabo had Deshaun, hell if Richt had gotten Deshaun maybe he’d still have a job– possibly even a natty. Let’s see what Dabo can do sans Watson and go from there because that’s what Saban does. He reloads regardless of who the players and other coaches are.
    2) I’ve had this conversation with many of my Clemson buddies who ask why we hired Kirby. Well, who the hell else was out there that is any better that would honestly come? Keeping in mind, if you don’t take Kirby (who wanted to come) you damned well better be right because if not us he was going to USCe.. I agree HC experience would have been nice but the HCs out there with experience had said experience in other situations. Herman? Patterson? I don’t know, decent couches with decent resumes but were they actually upgrades over Richt? I don’t think they would have been. Then Kirby does work out at USCe and beats Coach Fill-in-the-blank here? No thanks.
    3) We’re all in search of the next Saban. And frankly no one has found him whether it’s a coach from his tree or anywhere else. It’s ridiculous to point out that his disciples has failed– every damn coach has failed to dethrone him! No one has consistently bested him (without cheating Hugh) and frankly no one likely will. You talk about transcendent QBs, he’s the ultimate transcendent coach.

    I’ve never felt it was fair to judge Richt, Miles, Tubs, or any number of really good coaches against this man. He’s just the best there is. Someone will eventually climb that mountain and I hope like hell it’s Kirby. For all the good Saban has done for Bama he’s set the league back ten years. He’s sucked all the recruiting to himself and gotten really good coaches fired because they couldn’t figure out how to beat him.

    Senator, to your point… I think Kirby knows. It’s recruiting, then coaching. He’s doing pretty damn good on phase 1, now let’s hope he can coach em up.

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    • 1) Saban is simply the best college football coach in America right now and the second best one really isn’t all that close.

      Disagree with you there. Urban Meyer is plenty close to Saban.

      I read the other day that there are eight former assistants of Meyer who are currently D-1 head coaches.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hal Welch

        I’d definitely entertain that debate because I’d agree that he’d be the only one worthy of debating about. Although I discount him and his success based on three reasons if not more.
        1) he got the hell out of UF just as Nick got things rolling. They had some good head to head matchups to compare wits but…
        2) time has revealed that Urban was using less than upstanding tactics and players. All the Tebows in the world don’t offset the BS that he let go on under his watch with the likes of Hernandez and others and now…
        3) his success at OSU isn’t surprising. It’s a cupcake league led by one school and now two with UM on the upswing back. Get passed that one game a year, maybe two and getting to the playoffs whole isn’t really that tough. Losing to Clemson and Bama who got there via much tougher roads just says what I thought about Meyer.

        Good, not great.

        Swinney is the next one we’ll have to watch out for. I do think he’s got the formula. Can he bridge the talent loss the way Saban does is the big question? We’ll know more this year.

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    • “Saban is simply the best college football coach in America right now and the second best one really isn’t all that close”

      Saban is the best, but I don’t agree that it’s not that close. I hate Meyer & Harbaugh, but both of them flat out can coach. Harbaugh took Stanford (a traditional bottom-feeder) & transformed that program into a powerhouse and has taken a team to the Super Bowl. Meyer’s records (warts & all) speaks for itself. David Shaw is a damn good football coach at Stanford now (he was my choice to make a run at in 2015). Everyone thought Stanford would regress to sucking after Harbaugh’s departure (by the way, he signed the top prospect in Georgia last year in Davis Mills) … that hasn’t happened. Chris Petersen is another good football coach. He built Boise beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. If he had Alabama’s resources, he would be scary.

      “Well, who the hell else was out there that is any better that would honestly come?”

      Hal, honestly, we’ll never know because the Georgia Way did its thing by making the safe hire rather than swinging for the fences like Alabama did in 2007 by hiring Saban. That’s not meant as a barb at Kirby. It’s just the truth.

      “We’re all in search of the next Saban.”

      You’re right. Saban is transcendent, and so were Bowden, Bryant, Jimmy Johnson & Spurrier as a few examples. I’ll take the next Steve Spurrier (who I still think in his prime was the best in-game coach of this era and still the best college offensive mind of all time). Can Kirby be that type of coach? We’ll find out over the next 2-5 years. I hope so because I can’t wait to see Jimmy Sexton duke it out with Greg McGarity when Saban decides to hang it up. Talk about grab the popcorn!

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      • MGW

        The most Georgia thing possible would be for Smart to win a title the same year Saban retires, and for Georgia to be too cheap to keep him.

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        • If that happened, the torches and pitchforks would be out in Athens. Whoever the AD is at the time would be tarred and feathered in front of the Arch.

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          • Mayor

            The AD is just a front man in Athens. If they tarred and feathered the UGA AD that would be sooooo Georgia because they would be doing it to the wrong guy(s).

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      • Atticus

        It will be interesting to track Kirby, Herman and Shaw and see how they all do long term.

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        • Shaw has already been to at least two Rose Bowls. That would be like Vanderbilt being to multiple Sugar Bowls. The guy is already proven in my mind and seems to be one who does it the right way.

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          • Atticus

            How you figure? Harbaugh built that program. But he is a good coach. But that is why I said long term.

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            • You do realize Shaw has been the head coach at Stanford for 6 years now? I believe Shaw is one of the top 10 coaches in America, and he does it at the Vanderbilt of the PAC 12. Harbaugh was there 5 years, and Shaw was his OC the whole time. He was an NFL assistant before that. The guy has a resume to die for, and he’s only 45.

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              • Atticus

                Agreed. But he still took over a great program and had the benefit of USC’s mess and Oregon’s coach being in over his head. To compare them to Vandy is inaccurate. #1 Vandy is the bottom of the SEC and has no athletic department. Stanford always competes in most sports. Many more resources. But yes its not easy to win there. I think he is great, I wanted him for our next head coach. I think all 3 coaches could do really well, but that is why I said it will be interesting to compare the 3 long term because we may have had a choice at all 3 .

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                • I agree that Harbaugh rebuilt the program that was a embarrassment. While Stanford has always had a strong all-around athletic program, it didn’t rub off on the football program before Harbaugh and Shaw. He has kept winning when many thought he would be in over his head. Imagine what that would transfer to with a program of the resources and support of UGA.

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  8. Bright Idea

    Saban is indeed the best but I will always wonder what he would be if he had coached at Georgia instead of Bama, great perhaps but not extraordinary. As for hiring his assistants, who the hell else would you go after if you are in the SEC? Nobody else survives long enough to have a coaching tree.

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  9. DawgPhan

    There were some pretty good offensive coaches on those teams that beat Bama as well.

    Maybe kirby is the guy, maybe he isnt, but I know that we dont have the firepower on the offensive side of the ball, coaching wise, to compete with bama or even try and compare to the teams that have beat him in the past.

    Does anyone really think Chaney is in the same league as Herman, Kingsbury, Sumlin, Meyer, or Malzahn

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    • “Does anyone really think Chaney is in the same league as Herman, Kingsbury, Sumlin, Meyer, or Malzahn”

      In a word, no

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    • Southernlawyer11

      Agreed in part on Chaney (generally). I think his play-calling can be forgiven considering it was the entire group’s first year together…..he had a true freshman QB, a brand new and under-talented transfer at left tackle, and a thin cupboard at receiver. That’s a lot of handicaps compared to much of your competition.

      Now, in year 2, I better be seeing an offense that slings the ball around and tries to spread the defense out a little bit more so that Nick Chubb’s final 3 years aren’t a waste. Admittedly, the spring game has me worried.

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      • Southernlawyer11

        And just run the pistol for god’s sake. It’s the best compromise for a base pro-style system with a downhill running game but a QB who works better from the gun. I recall it thriving when Bobo used it with Murray and Gurley.

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        • I totally agree about the pistol. It’s devastating as a base formation because you can typically run either way. When you combine it with 3 wide and a tight end with a competent QB, it becomes an offense that is “pick your poison.”

          On your 1st comment, we showed in the Tennessee game that we could spread the field, move the ball, and score points. We never saw that offensive game plan again last year.

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  10. Atticus

    SC beat them I think with Garcia wasn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person