The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

August 11, 2013

Bama's Saban bellying up to the Bear

— In Alabama, there is Paul Bryant, and there is everyone else. To even suggest that another football coach could be compared to the Bear is practically sacrilegious.

To fans of the Crimson Tide, he's revered like a family patriarch.

In that way, Nick Saban could probably never match Bryant. But when it comes to producing championship football teams and dominating the sport, Saban is rapidly gaining on the Bear after leading Bama to three of the past four BCS titles in a hyper-competitive, megabucks, huddles-are-optional era.

In the process, he's adding another floor to the house that Bear helped build during a quarter-century in Tuscaloosa.

"There's no question that the '70s were a golden era," said former Tide lineman Fred Sington Jr. "Really and truly, this is probably the brightest era that's been at Alabama football. My father played for coach (Wallace) Wade, I played for coach Bryant, my brother played for coach Bryant. I don't care who you played for, right now this is the epitome of Alabama football."

Rise of the Tide

It took 24 years, eight head coaches and five losing seasons, but the Bear might finally have met his match in Tuscaloosa with Saban's hiring in 2007.

The Tide has won 89.7 percent (61-7) of its games over the past five seasons, with two SEC titles and three national championships. It's shaping up as comparable to Bryant's seven-year run from 1973-79 when Alabama went 76-8 — a 90.4-percent clip — and collected six league and three national titles, including two Associated Press crowns.

Saban hasn't been quite so untouchable in a conference with a seven-year monopoly on the national title, but he's showing no signs of slowing down either.

The Tide is considered the favorite to win a third straight national crown with talent flooding in. Alabama athletic director Bill Battle, who played for Bryant's first national championship team in 1961, calls it an unprecedented run.

"What coach Bryant did was unprecedented at the time, I think," Battle said earlier this summer. "This is a different time. I don't think that competition has ever been greater in the history of college football than it is today. There are a lot of people that are putting a lot of money into football and all sports, as you read about the arms race.

"That hasn't happened in the past as much as it has today."

Saban is just halfway to Bryant's six national titles at Alabama, albeit in only six years. He led LSU to the BCS title — AP crowned Southern California — in 2004. That gives Saban four titles in his last eight seasons in college, broken up by a much less successful two-year NFL stint with the Miami Dolphins.

Notre Dame's Frank Leahy and Southern California's John McKay join him as the only other coaches with four national championships in the poll era, dating back to 1936. Leahy and Nebraska's Tom Osborne also won it all three times in four years.

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