With this week's big showdown in Tuscaloosa looming, there will certainly be a lot of stories about how much LSU fans detest Nick Saban. But I want more people to know that hate is limited to a loud few, and does not characterize a large proportion of fans.
I know I don't hate the Nicktator. I love the guy. I would be an idiot not to be grateful for what he did for LSU, lifting it to heights it hadn't seen in a near half-century.
In addition, I thought the mental approach that Nick Saban taught to his players was the perfect way to approach football: a very literal one-play-at-a-time mentality. That's why it wasn't unusual to see Nick exploding in rage over some third-string defensive lineman's missed assignment in a 40-10 blowout.
For Nick, that play was the most important play right then. But when it was over, it was over. You forgot about it, and moved to the next play.
In fact, I confess that this is why I thought he would be a huge success in the NFL. I thought professional players would buy into that approach and appropriate it for themselves more readily than college kids, who are more susceptible to emotional response.
Saban's approach is cold, analytical, and intense. I think he is a helluva coach.
I also love Les Miles.
Does he wear his hat perched precariously high on his head? Yes. Does he make funny facial expressions? Absolutely. Does he say things that are at times mystifying to those of us who speak English? Absolution!
But the guy can coach. To be sure, he's very different from Saban. Saban is the football equivalent of Al Gore, a wonk who is involved in every minute detail of the team. Les is more of a delegator, a big picture guy.
Saban is hard on assistants and underlings, controlling everything they do. Miles tends to let them coach a bit more.
When Saban left LSU, there were not many who were involved in the program who were sad to see him go. His dictatorial manner had alienated some players, but also the administrators and others who manage the mechanics of a large football program.
People like Les. He's easier to be around. He spurned (or was rejected) his alma mater for LSU.
He's a little crazy. I think most fans, if they were honest, would admit that they wish their coach would run a fake field goal like LSU did against South Carolina in 2007. Les at times coaches like I play video games—balls out.
His teams play fast and loose—sometimes too loose. But always fun to watch. And he does this other thing that I like: win. He's won at a rate unequaled by any coach over the same amount of years.
Yes, I know the Saban's players critique, but look at Saban's numbers with Saban's players. Very comparable to those of Les.
So you know what? I love the guy, and I love Saban. And I look at Bama and what Saban has done with that team, and I think it's great. I wish him success personally, though of course I hope Bama loses to LSU every year. But I hoped that when Ray Perkins was the coach, and when Mike Shula was the coach, and when Bear Bryant was the coach. It has nothing to do with Nick.