What about the SEC makes Saban so successful?

Submitted by Blue Blue Blue on September 3rd, 2012 at 12:33 AM

so Nick Saban coached for years at Michigan State with a 34-24 record.  Then he went to LSU and became a god, going 48-16. with a national title.


He jumps to the Dolphins, where he goes 9-7 and then 6-10.......at which point, he jumps back to Alabama, where he goes 55-12 with  2 National Championships.


So Nicky poo is no great shakes, except  when he is SEC.  What gives?


Do you think he couldnt win with equal talent (even MSU has significantly higher standards than any SEC school, so no bringing in truckloads of JUCO stars), but the SEC' s low academic standards allow him to stockpile superior talent?


Lets face it the SEC lets the bullshit fly.   Cam Newton and Fairley each spent about one semester attending classes at Auburn, but were "juniors" when they left after their championship season.





September 3rd, 2012 at 1:24 AM ^

for NCAA athletes may be the same across the board, but academic difficulty certainly isn't. Any given class at Michigan is much more difficult to pass than an equivalent class at Alabama. Student athletes are well aware of this.


September 3rd, 2012 at 1:36 AM ^

People also underestimate how strong Bama was before Saban got there.  They won a national title in '92 and their only loss was by one point to Florida in the SEC title game in '94.  They got hit with scholarship reductions in 1995 and again in 2002.  Despite that, Mike Dubose won the SEC in '99, Franchione won 10 games and the West division but couldn't play in the title game or a bowl and bailed for A&M in 2002 to avoid the sanctions, and Mike Shula won 10 games in 2005 (Saban arrived in 2007).  The ceiling was still high and Saban arrived two years after the scholarship reductions expired. 

It isn't a coincidence that the guy's record (along with that of every coach ever) gets better at the stops with the most talent.  That being said, he has now built an absolute juggernaut on the recruiting trail and it will be interesting to see how long the run can continue.


September 3rd, 2012 at 1:59 AM ^

To ask what it is about the SEC is a bit of a leading (or maybe just misleading) question. The question you're really interested in is "what is the common thread through all of Saban's successes," but you have grouped plays into games into seasons into coaching stops into a tenure within a league (and the microscope could zoom much further in than "plays!"). The ONLY common thread with Saban's success is Saban.

My opinion as to what a useful level of thinking on this topic might be comes from Bo: blocking and tackling. That particular level of detail (there are many smaller and many more grand) is probably the most useful to analyzing football success. I speculate Saban knows a lot about blocking and tackling, I mean he really gets them, and this deep understanding serves as a lens for all of his recruiting, teaching, hiring, etc. It means he gets technical schematic details, principles of body leverage, how to connect to a diverse group of young men in order to teach meaningfully,  how players fit within a scheme and what sorts of psychological profiles and body types he'd ideally have at each position, who can coach and understand as he does...everything about the game through a detailed lens of "how can I put 11 elite blockers and tacklers on the field?"


September 3rd, 2012 at 2:26 AM ^

Absolutely nothing.  Being a bit OCD doesn't make you win football games.  At MSU it just made him 25-22-1 until he could get guys like Plaxico, Julian Peterson, and TJ Duckett on the field at the same time.  In his first bowl game at MSU he lost 45-26 to a team coached by Gerry DiNardo.  In his second he lost 38-0 to a 6-5 team coached by Tyrone Willingham.  In his third he lost 51-23 to a 7-4 Washington team coached by the legendary Jim Lambright (his sweet mustache will never be forgotten).  In his fourth year at MSU his team wasn't invited to a bowl game.

The guy is a really good program builder.  There is no secret.  He brings in a shitload of highly touted recruits and a lot of them end up being really good at football.  Scouting and recruiting make it happen, not some allegiance to the tao of the tackle.


September 3rd, 2012 at 3:16 AM ^

Hypothesis: He is an excellent college coach, and a better coach than recruiter.


Guys like Ron Zook can get four stars to come to places like Illinois, but let's be real, Michigan State is not an elite destination for college prospects. Saban is no Ron Zook, but when he gets a leg up in recruiting by being at a legendary college program (Alabama) or a school which has an entire state to itself while surrounded by prospect-rich states (Louisiana), he is golden.


It's not some conspiracy about the SEC, it's that it's a hell of a lot easier to convince a four-star recruit from the South to sign at Alabama than at Michigan State. Once he has those kids, Saban delivers on the field.


If Saban were at USC, I strongly believe he would be delivering stellar results. Do you?


As for the NFL, it is possible that Saban's reputed authoritarian style did not go over well with NFL veterans (as opposed to young college students at Saban's mercy with respect to scholarships and discipline). Spurrier, Carroll, and many other good college coaches who were mediocre in the NFL come to mind as coaches whose styles just didn't work in the pros.


Saban is a good coach. Mystery solved.


September 3rd, 2012 at 7:38 AM ^

Saban was very successful at MSU; he revived a dormant program.  His main problem there was that the administration there was part of an unofficial "movement" to try and take sports back from the athletic departments and put them in the hands of academic administrators.  

Saban referred to MSU as his "dream job" when he was hired, and probably would have stayed in EL had it not been for constant meddling on the part of the MSU administration.  In other words, Sparty turned Nick Saban into a pastoral nomad.

In the SEC, he has more access to more athletes.  Football means more down here than it does up there.  HIgh schools in Florida have a "jamboree" to end spring practice, in which they play halves against two other schools.  I'm pretty sure most of the other states down here also have spring practice.  

At any rate, kids can practice outdoors year around.  Even when they aren't in organized practices, they can hit the local fields and throw the ball around, or play other sports to keep their athleticism up.  Sorry to be so unscientific here, but I guess the best way to put it is that there isn't the winter "hibernation" down here, because there's no real winter.

Then, of course, there's the SEC's slightly different standard of what constitutes "cheating."  The over-recruiting loophole has served Saban well, too.  I think a lot of it comes down to "southern hospitality" on recruiting trips, though.  They have generous boosters, and "hostesses" who take the first two letters of their job descriptions quite seriously.

One of the best quotes in the media slurp-fest of last week was that he left the NFL because their efforts at parity make it difficult to gain a competitive advantage.  It's still the Jimmies and Joes: not the X's and O's.




September 3rd, 2012 at 8:09 AM ^

I only saw a couple people make mention of it. He couldn't get the elite talent to MSU mostly because of the presence of Michigan in the state. If both schools are offering, generally Michigan will be ahead of MSU for the committment.   That's true every year except for the Rich Rodriguez years.

Dantonio's success likely never happens if he showed up when Carr is young and has the staff he had in the mid-90s. It would likely look a lot more like Saban's level of success while at MSU.

As it was, he came right when Michigan was going through a sloppy transition with an aging coach that wasn't high energy on the recruiting trail anymore, who had no likely successor on the staff. Then Michigan earmarks an unpopular outsider who deemphasizes the very thing Dantonio does emphasize: defense AND who installs a totally new system with an emphasis on smaller quicker offensive players.

Dantonio's done a great job. But as it relates to his dominance of Michigan and finishing ahead of Michigan in the standings, his timing was almost too good to be true.

The way Saban recruits, I am sleeping better at night that it's Dantonio who took over in 07 and not Saban. This would be a much harder hole to climb out of with Saban running things.


September 3rd, 2012 at 3:53 PM ^

Every other year while he was coach at MSU they were at or slightly above .500 (6-5-1, 6-6, 7-5, and 6-6). In his first three years, they were blown out in their bowl game and in his fourth year they didn't go to a bowl.

I think this reflects more on Michigan State's situation on the time than it does on Saban, though. He's clearly proven he can coach at the collegiate level. George Perles on the other hand had really started to slip in his last few years. Perles had been athletic director for a while but was forced out later, and was fired during the 1994 season while the team was under NCAA investigation. Recruiting seemed to have dropped off during his last few years, and the way he was fired couldn't have helped things.



September 3rd, 2012 at 8:59 AM ^

Beyond the oversigning (no longer officially  allowed by the SEC, I believe, as of last summer) and the sheer breadth  of talent in the southern US, I think there are some other items worth mentioning.

I think Nick Saban, and most of the coaches in the SEC, benefit from a culture around football that just doesn't exist in most of the country, so they are given more leeway to run their programs in ways that likely would draw criticism (and has) at most other schools in most conferences. 

It seems to me that schools like Alabama in particular place a level of importance on the sport that tries to account for the otherwise limited resources of a place like Alabama. It almost becomes about validation and self-worth then, and when these things are on the line, it's very easy to get into the "winning is everything" attitude and allow someone to creatively interpret the rules set down by the NCAA and the conference.

Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that one does something patently  illicit, but it may mean that you know what  your limits are in gory detail, loopholes included. I dare say Nick Saban is a sharp man and knows that he can utilize that mindset - they built a statue to him, after all, only three seasons into his tenure. Alabama has spared no expense with Saban, nor his staff, and I believe it is partly because the program is tied to the  school's own sense of its perceived value. 

The athletic program itself also benefits from the so-called "dirt road donors" (as many in the SEC do) who give the school millions even though they've never set foot on the campus as a student or alum. As a result, they have facilities that chart with the best and, and quite literally, there would be nothing like it for miles (whereas here in SE Michigan, we have two D-1 schools within a 90 minute drive). He can sell the "Alabama" thing because it caters to a sense of place, which is more prevalent in the South, I have noticed. 




Yale Van Dyne Fan

September 3rd, 2012 at 9:19 AM ^

There is a salary cap in the NFL but none in the SEC. If it hasn't become patently obvious to you guys that money is flying around left and right in the SEC, and quite frankly a lot of other places, well, how does that George Strait song go? I've got some oceanfront property in Arizona...........


September 3rd, 2012 at 9:35 AM ^

simply because he's got access to huge numbers of talented high school kids in the deep South and over-signs on top of it, you also need to dismiss Bo Schembechler's coaching abilities because he was able to recruit large numbers of highly talented kids from the fertile football-mad state of Ohio in an era of unlimited scholarships.

The argument that Saban is no big deal as a coach reminds me of all the lunkheads who constantly dismiss Phil Jackson because he had Michael Jordan.


September 3rd, 2012 at 10:32 AM ^

good coach as well, but none of them managed to win a MNC until they joined the SEC. That can also be said for the Auburn program. Saban was as talented a coach at MSU as he was at either of the other two schools mentioned, both in the SEC. However, if you don't think the major difference is that the NCAA, as a whole, just looks the other way why they stockpile players to the point where the first 20-25, depending upon how many openings they have in a particular year, qualify, and then in instances where they have more than that qualify, they summarily withdraw the offers to some of the overextended makes a difference, you aren't grasping the entire picture.  And I will say is didn't hurt Phil to have the two best at their given times, surrounded by necessary talent either to cut out such a great record. Hell, Woooden couldn't have done what he did without all his talent. It's a necessity. However in cfb, when you have teams play by the rules and others simply ignore them, guess which ones are going to be able to benefit most? That didn't take much of a guess now, did it?


September 3rd, 2012 at 9:59 AM ^

Saban is doing nothing different that Kiffin is currently doing at USC, Meyer did at Florida, and Bowden did at FSU.   For different reasons the coach has/had access to the best talent.  Football is ultimately a game of chess except some teams get better pieces.  

The reason why Saban failed at the NFL level is his strengths are no longer useful.  In the NFL all players are practicing their craft 7x24.  There is this thing called the draft instead of just getting the top 15 players.  All the little loopholes Saban uses to his advantage are just non issues.  

At the NFL the superior orgainzations win because they are better at identifying superior talent and out scheming their opponent.  You only get better chess pieces only if you can see something the other 30some staffs do not.  You can't gain superior talent because you get the top ten draft pickes and get to drop six.   Worse, there are teams with the same talent.   You can't just run it down their throat or expect your defense to stone wall the other offense.  You actually have to figure out rock/paper/sicsors and get into the head of the other Dcoordinator.

This is why some coaches do not move on or when they do fail at the next level.  When forced to coach on an equal footing they are nothing special.   So the Sabans choose to come back as it is preferable to be a big fish in the little pond.  




September 3rd, 2012 at 10:44 AM ^

That is the real question.  Morally and ethically, it is deplorable and unfair to the kids that get a 'promise' of a scholarship and then have it yanked out from under them, but is it against the rules.

The SEC doesn't mandate a 25-scholarship limit like the B1G does.  Is there a NCAA rule that you must follow through on your 'committment' of  that schollie for four years.  If the scholarship is a one-year contract between the school and athe student athlete(player) then Saban is doing nothing wrong(as far as the rules go). 

I don't like the guy, the totally disagree with what he does, but he has one job, WIN!  And he does it very well.  I'm sure the folks at Bama told him just win MNCs and stay close to the rules.

Until the NCAA says all scholarships are 4-year contracts guaranteed and no grayshirting, medical hardship.... then Saban and Miles and probably Kiffin too will continue to rule college football.

The SEC will never stop Saban or Miles because it makes them look better.

If all of our complaining is from a moral standpoint, not a rules standpoint, then we might as well shut up and take the beatings or get on the train, because nothing is going to change.  If we choose to play by more restrictive rules than Bama, but both are within the NCAA rules then we cannot logically catch them.


September 3rd, 2012 at 11:09 AM ^

I read somewhere that high schools in less football-mad places like Michigan and Ohio(I know Ohio is rush with talent but they aren't as fanatical as the south) take the best athletes and put them on offense, whereas the south tends to do the opposite - putting fast and athletic tight ends at safety and linebacker etc.


September 3rd, 2012 at 11:09 AM ^

Why is he so successful?


     He is clearly just a great coach. He knows what it takes to win year after year and he puts in the necessary time. He doesn't do gimicks like onside kicks every other kickoff or fake punts. He just plays old school football.


     He hires great assistant coaches and turns things over. He has a motto, "Do your job" and he holds everyone to it. His former assistants are off coaching at FSU, Florida, MSU, CSU and Tennessee.


     I know for some reason oversigning is an issue so I won't bother getting into that part (I personally think teams should each have 150 scholarships so that more deserving kids have a chance to get an education, but that is just me). Instead I will talk about talent. Talent comes out of California, Texas, Florida, and Georgia for the most part. The SEC has an advantage just like USC because most kids want to go to school close to home.

School Support

     The administration views athletics as part of univeristy recruiting. The former president, and current chancellor, wants to see UA win NCAA championships because enrollment applications jump after that. 52% of incoming freshmen this year were from outside of the state of Alabama and enrollment has gone up 50%. It is not just some hillbillies deciding UA either since they were 6th in National Merit Scholars for public universities. The new president, who takes over tomorrow, is coming out of Texas Tech and will have the same view of sports as recruiting for the larger student body.


     Saban is famous for "The Process" but it clearly works. It is a plan to put strong systems in place and watch everything the kids do with an up or out attitude. He had GAs follow the kids to class to make sure they show, he gets progress reports every two weeks to make sure the students are turning in work and doing well on exams, he has a large pool of tutors and requires the students to go. You can argue that the classes are easier but that doesn't really mean too much when they get Academic All Americans as well. Players at UA often go out in three for the draft or finish in 5 with graduate degrees.

snarling wolverine

September 3rd, 2012 at 12:17 PM ^

I know for some reason oversigning is an issue so I won't bother getting into that part (I personally think teams should each have 150 scholarships so that more deserving kids have a chance to get an education, but that is just me).

I wouldn't mind near-unlimited scholarship totals either, but Title IX won't allow it. The issue people have with the oversigning is that it results in players, who were recruited with the understanding that they'd have a full college career, getting shoved off the team to make room for new recruits. That requires a level of ethical flexibility (to put it gently) that a lot of coaches aren't comfortable with. There seems to be more acceptance of this in SEC country than elsewhere, which gives SEC schools a competitive advantage. I don't even think it's that necessary; schools like Alabama have a ton of natural advantages to begin with.  I think they'd still be a dominant program, but the oversigning certainly broadens the gap between them and the schools that respect the 85-man limit in recruiting.


September 3rd, 2012 at 2:31 PM ^

Generally there are two types of players in the SEC (perhaps at all schools but I know the SEC so I limit myself to what I have seen). The first is the Barrett Jones type. He is finishing up his Masters in Accountancy and plans to eventually move back to Memphis and cash in on his free education and built in business network. Those students get degrees in business or engineering and normally are able to get a Masters degree in the 5 years. Heck, the QB during the 2009 NC was Greg McElroy who was a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship and now is with the Jets.

The other is the ones that are generally first generation college students that use the school to build a highlight real before the NFL draft. They sometimes get degrees but often they do not because the opportunity cost is far too high. It is better to sign with a team at 21 and start getting the big bucks (which from an economic perspective is the more rational choice). Even losing a good number of players to the draft the graduation rates are high and that is a testiment to the first type of player listed above. They always talk the number of players that already have degrees and there is a second group that people know more than likely will not.

The JuCo system is very strong in the South as well. JuCo takes the players that do not qualify for the SEC/ACC schools and coach them up so they can play at the next level. Not everyone naturally but most know that the system is JuCO-SEC-NFL or if you have the grades then SEC-NFL.

People often fail to realize how much money there is in college football in the South. The NFL is not really a presence at least not like it is in the North East, the Great Lakes, and the Pacific Coast. UA had revenue of $77 million last year and it only increases with championships. The state of Alabama has never had a basketball team make it to the Final Four but there is always football and that football is college.

Back when Alabama played in the Rose Bowl it was the only source of pride for the South in those years and when Alabama won championships in the 60's and 70's everyone in the South was proud because TV only showed Bull Conner in Birmingham or George Wallace fighting to keep UA all white. That is why UA has so many people that have no actual tie to the university give money.

State Street

September 3rd, 2012 at 11:19 AM ^

But I was perusing a Bama forum after the game and one of the posters was talking about how the former ESPN anchor Craig James killed 5 hookers during the time he played at SMU?  Is this widely accepted as fact?  I can't honestly believe a man that killed 5 prostitues at one point in his life could go on to work for ESPN let along run for the US Senate. 

snarling wolverine

September 3rd, 2012 at 12:08 PM ^

In Saban's first four years at MSU, they were on probation and limited to something like 70 scholarships, so he was shorthanded personnel-wise.  He also had the challenge of facing a dominant in-state program in Michigan.  The only year he was there with a full 85 scholarships was 1999, and he went 9-2.  Whether he could have maintained that is anyone's guess, but they were definitely headed in the right direction.

At LSU, he faced no scholarship restrictions and was coaching the only big program in the state (which is extremely fertile recruiting territory).  With few obstacles, he won big pretty quickly.

By the time he'd made it to Alabama, he was a well-known commodity, had figured out some new tricks (like oversigning) and had learned from his previous stops.  He's in the prime of his coaching career and has complete support from the program.  It's not that surprising that he's built them into a monster.  (Note that he still took his lumps in year 1, going 6-6.  He's not a complete miracle worker.)




September 3rd, 2012 at 2:56 PM ^

The guy has evolved as a coach, I really think he has gotten better at evaluating talent (real talent) once he got to LSU. Once he had seen real talent play and practice the guy started to go after that type of player. The South is rich in talent. I do think the more you move in your career at the beginning the better. He was at MSU and had to play 2nd fiddle to us in terms of talent, popularity etc. he left and learned what it was like to be the big dawg and he liked it. Hence his move to Miami, that was ego and dollars working at there best. He knew he could go back to college after he got paid. I see Pete Caroll doing the same thing. He too evolved. You know he wanted to smoke us for all those years at MSU. We will be fine if the boys just hold there head up high.