I guess it's true. You live long enough you'll see and hear everything. But forgive me. I guess I thought it would be a bit longer before I heard this one.
Is Nick Saban bigger than Paul William Bryant? Yup. The Bear. And this wasn't asked by some blogging bum such as myself, this was the lead question in today's (04/15/08) column (http://www.finebaum.com) by the one and only Paul Finebaum.
After two spring practices. After 8 wins. After one recruiting national championship. I'm not kidding. And certainly not laughing.
This line of thinking screams for historical context.
The record: 4 - 5 - 1. Alabama lost to Auburn 28 - 0. Yeah, that's a goose egg.
The record: ZERO - 10. Can you see that with your one good eye, Paul? IN 1955 ALABAMA DID NOT WIN A SINGLE GAME!!! And, oh yeah, the Auburn game?? 26 - 0.
The record: 2 - 7 - 1. After slitting your wrists over a winless season the year before, I imagine fans of the day were elated to have won TWO games. And for those of you who thought I might slip up and forget the Auburn game, NOT! Auburn 34 - Alabama 7.
The record: Again, 2 - 7 - 1. AUBURN 40............'Bama..........nothing.
Translate this period to today's Alabama. I can envision fans marching on Tuscaloosa, pulling the head coach out of his office by his, ahem, ears and caning him to the state line. The GEORGIA state line!
Back to the book.
In '55 'Bama scored 48 points and gave up TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY SIX.
In '56, 85 points scored to TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHT given.
In '57, 69 points scored to one hundred and seventy three given.
In three years J. B. Whitworth was 4 - 24 - 2. ('55, '56, '57)
This is Alabama Football??? Yep. This is the Alabama football program Paul William Bryant was hired to rebuild. In it's storied history Alabama football was NEVER lower. Not even close. "Ears" Whitworth made Mike Shula look like the Don. (no pun intended)(I have it on good authority "Ears" could grill a mean steak, though!)
Bryant's first move? Coddling "show dogs"?? Berating the media?? Comparing his task in rebuilding a football program to winning World War II??
Try none of the above. Bryant hit town telling everyone there was no "depth" chart, from quarterback to waterboy. He didn't care about legacy, last name, or how much money your daddy had. Last year's "stars" were this year's targets. Most didn't make the first spring practice. Remember, Bryant wasn't that far removed from Junction, Texas. He believed if you laid down in practice, you'd lay down in a game. And he meant to find out who were the quitters in practice. By his own admission, he was one mean son of a bitch in those days and regretted his meanness later on.
But the record books don't lie. In his first eight years he won three National Championships. Some argue it should have been four. For his career coaching the Crimson Tide he won SIX national titles and THIRTEEN SEC championships. I vividly remember hearing The Man growl that an SEC title was just something you had to win to get to a national championship. And for those eager to place him on a pedestal and proclaim him the creator of 'Bama football, he'd be lightning quick to correct them. Alabama had a proud championship tradition long before he got there. He did nothing more than pick up the torch from the mire, relight it and run to glory.
Coach Bryant only carried a state on his shoulders through one of it's darkest times.
The job, it killed him.
Time, why you punish me?
Like a wave crashing into the shore
You wash away my dreams
Time, why you walk away? oh, oh
Like a friend with somewhere to go
You left me crying..........Hootie and the Blowfish.
Since his death, 'Bama's march though the wilderness is well documented. Gene Stallings and his one national title (1992) the only ray of hope in 25+ years spent roiling in a pit of incompetence, cheating, finger-pointing and sanctions.
Enter Nick Saban.
After the gross incompetence of Mike DuBose, (remember, capitalize the "B") the self-serving Franphony, the stupidity of Mike Price and the stubborn inexperience of Mike Shula, after 25 years of stumbling in the darkness, who can blame the Alabama fan base for clinging to Saban like he's some college football messiah returned to raise the program from the dead? (many did the same with Shula)
But the same Paul Finebaum who once said a "ham sandwich" could win eight games a year at Alabama now would have you thank your lucky stars you have Nick Saban's butt to plant your head in.
Think about it, Mike DuBose, coming out of the NCAA sanctions left him by Hootie Ingram and Gene Stallings, won the 1999 SEC Championship with his penis in one hand and a play....book in the other. (and Steve Spurrier never recovered) How hard can it be??
I know I'm exaggerating the point here, call me a cynic, but through the mishmash of today's feel-good, puff-in-stuff blather, the burning beacon of historical truth shines like the sun.
Nick Saban's a good coach, maybe great. But I knew Coach Bryant and, you sir, ain't walked on no water I've seen yet.
It's 3 am, the red phones ringing, Dr. Michelson.
Paul's sprung a leak!