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SEC 2000-10: The Rise of the Nicktator

Nick's Numbers:

  • Record at LSU: 48-16 Overall, 28-12 SEC
  • Record at Alabama: 32-8 Overall, 20-4 SEC
  • Decade Record: 80-24 (.769), 48-16 (.750) SEC
  • Bowl wins: 2000 Peach, 2002 Sugar, 2004 Sugar, 2007 Independence
  • Titles: SEC West: 2001, 2003, 2008, 2009  SEC: 2001, 2003, 2009. BCS: 2003

There has been no greater coaching power this decade than Nick Saban. But perhaps the greatest testimony to the power of a decade span is the rise of Nick Saban.

In contrast to the rather large and central place he now occupies in the SEC coaching matrix, ten years ago he was nothing more than an up-and-coming young coach who had decent, but not overwhelming success at Michigan State.

But then, the SEC was where up-and-comers came to get squashed, and several of them had died on the shores of the bayou before him: Mike Archer, Curley Hallman, and Gerry DiNiardo.

Who knew Saban would be any different? Despite Skip Bertman's confidence, LSU fans were skeptical—after all, Saban's Michigan State team lost to DiNardo's Tigers 45-26 in 1995, and his other seasons were inconsistent.

And his first year at LSU was not one that inspired confidence. Blowout losses to Auburn and Florida coupled with a home loss to the University of Alabama at Birmingham caused many, including this Tiger fan, to question the wisdom of his hiring.

TUESDAY: What a Decade It's Been; Mike Price's Trip to Pensacola
WEDNESDAY: The Zook Experiment; Georgia Hires Mark Richt
THURSDAY: The Best Game; Auburn's Rise and Fall; Rivalry of the Decade
TODAY: The Worst Game; The Promise

But a surprise SEC title in 2001 ingratiated him to many before a mediocre second-half of the 2002 season revived old fears.

Then of course, came 2003, and LSU's first national title -- albeit disputed by USC -- since 1958. Saban could have announced himself as a candidate for the king of Louisiana at that point, and he would have won in a landslide.

But a small dark cloud was gathering on the horizon. After the Sugar Bowl win against Oklahoma, it was just a question of when Nick Saban was going to go to the NFL.

His wife had admitted on the radio in Baton Rouge that the NFL could offer benefits that college just couldn't match, and that Nick would eventually be lured to the professional ranks.

The Dolphins hooked him after the 2004 LSU season, and Saban spent two mostly miserable years leading South Florida's squad. His tenure there was marked by intense tirades, too many losses and few wins.

And when Alabama got rid of Mike Shula after the 2006 season, the immediate rumor was that Saban would replace him.

Despite repeated denials, and other drama in the hiring process, Saban was announced as the Alabama head coach on January 3, 2007.

And though Saban and the Crimson Tide were criticized heavily for the manner in which he was hired, Saban's tenure atop the Crimson Tide program has more than justified the decision.

In just his second year, the Tide went undefeated in the regular season, losing the SEC Championship Game to Florida, and to Utah in the Sugar Bowl.

Despite the last two losses, Saban's rebuilding project appeared well ahead of schedule, and far more effective than most thought it would be.

Saban capped the decade by getting his Alabama team through the season undefeated, dominating Florida in a rematch of the previous year's title game, and as of this writing the Crimson Tide are set to play Texas in the BCS Championship game in the first part of the next decade.

It's safe to say that what Saban has done at Alabama has exceeded expectations, and anyone familiar with that fan base will know that expectations there are wildly unrealistic. But Saban has managed it.

A brief excursus on possible reasons for Saban's success

So why has Saban been so successful? Two words: focus and defense. Saban's mental approach is stronger and more demanding than anyone else's. He demands that his players compete on every single play, but once it ends, they forget about it and play the next as if their life depended on it. Saban is famously impatient with players, but that impatience extends to coaches, administrators, trainers, cord-holders, peons, and anyone upon whom his evil eye falls.

And because of his coaching resume, Saban is a defensive genius. He knows more football than most coaching staffs, and he is not afraid to let you know it. In a room, he's the smartest guy. And the most driven. Assistants hate working for him, because of his brutal demands. But they do, because of what they will learn and what it will mean to have Saban's name on their resume.

Those, in my opinion, are the two biggest single reason for his success. Oh, and a pact with Lucifer.