Alabama coach Nick Saban surpassed legendary former Crimson Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant in the record books on Monday night by winning his seventh national championship. Saban now also has more national championships than the other 129 active FBS coaches combined. The only other active coach with more than one is Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, who has claimed two with the Tigers.
Monday’s title was the 69-year-old Saban’s sixth at Alabama (he won his first at LSU in 2003), meaning he will still need one more to surpass Bryant for the most in school history. But even though he’s now matched or surpassed Bryant in many categories, Saban’s reverence for Bryant’s legacy shined through after Monday’s win.
“I think Coach Bryant is sort of in a class of his own…,” Saban said. “If it wasn’t for Coach Bryant we’d never be able to do what we did. He’s the one who made the tradition at Alabama a place where a lot of players wanted to come.”
Bryant’s six titles with the Crimson Tide came over a 19-year span, with the first coming in 1961 and the last in 1979. Saban’s six at the school have come in a 12-year span, starting with a 37-21 win over Texas in the BCS Championship Game to cap the 2009 season. That 2009 Alabama team finished 14-0, and until Monday night, it was the only Crimson Tide team under Saban’s direction to finish a season undefeated; Saban’s previous four championship teams each suffered a loss during the regular season. Not only did this iteration of Saban’s Alabama juggernaut go unbeaten, but it nearly went unchallenged. Aside from a 52-46 win over Florida in the SEC title game, the Crimson Tide won every game by double-digits.
“To me, this is the ultimate team,” Saban said after hoisting the championship trophy. “All these guys bought into everything they needed to do to be the best players they could be. There’s more togetherness on this team than almost any team that we’ve ever had. And they had to overcome and persevere through so much adversity this season, and they’ve done it magnificently. I’m so proud of this group for what they’ve been able to accomplish … going undefeated and winning the national championship.”
The debate over whether this Alabama team is better than last season’s 15-0 LSU team may have some merit, and the Crimson Tide have likely had better defenses during Saban’s tenure. But two portions of this Alabama championship team’s legacy is not up for debate: it is the only to have played a 10-game SEC schedule, and it will always be the team that helped its legendary coach make history.
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