The greatest four-year runs in SEC football history under one coach in chronological order, including the records, coaches and number of league titles:
YEARS — SCHOOL — RECORD — COACH — TITLES
1934-37 — Alabama — 33-3-2 — Frank Thomas — 2
1937-40 — Tennessee — 37-5-1 — Robert Neyland — 3
1949-52 — Tennessee — 36-6-2 — Robert Neyland — 1
1957-60 — Auburn — 34-5-1 — Shug Jordan — 1
1958-61 — LSU — 35-7-1 — Paul Dietzel — 1
1959-62 — Ole Miss — 39-3-1 — Johnny Vaught — 2
1961-64 — Alabama — 40-4-0 — Bear Bryant — 2
1971-74 — Alabama — 43-5-0 — Bear Bryant — 4
1977-80 — Alabama — 44-4-0 — Bear Bryant — 3
1980-83 — Georgia — 43-4-1 — Vince Dooley — 3
1986-89 — Auburn — 39-7-2 — Pat Dye — 3
1993-96 — Florida — 45-6-1 — Steve Spurrier — 4
1995-98 — Tennessee — 45-5-0 — Phillip Fulmer — 2
2002-05 — Georgia — 44-9-0 — Mark Richt — 2
2006-09 — Florida — 48-7-0 — Urban Meyer — 2
2008- — Alabama — 43-5-0 — Nick Saban — 1
The Mount Rushmore of Southeastern Conference football coaches may have its fourth face.
After Tennessee's Robert Neyland, Alabama's Paul "Bear" Bryant and Florida's Steve Spurrier dominated their respective eras in the SEC, former LSU and current Alabama coach Nick Saban continues to stake his claim as an all-time great. Saban is the first coach in league history to guide two programs to national championships, and if his 7-0 Crimson Tide can finish 14-0 for a second time in three years, he would win a record 50 games in a four-year stretch.
His latest victim, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, has no reservations placing Saban among the league's elite historically.
"They've already got a statue down there, don't they?" Nutt said. "I think you can go ahead and do that. Whenever you hold up that crystal ball, I think you've done something very special, and he's done it at two schools."
Alabama has reeled off wins over Arkansas, Florida, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss by the average score of 42-8 entering Saturday night's game against visiting Tennessee, but what has Crimson Tide fans even more excited is that Saban doesn't seem to be leaving any time soon. When Alabama opens its 2012 season against Michigan in Dallas, it would be the first time Saban has entered a sixth year in the same locale.
He turns 60 on Halloween, though he looks noticeably younger and has the energy of most people half his age, especially when he finds a question from the media unsettling.
"When I came here, I came here with the idea that I would be here for the rest of my career," Saban said. "I had moved around a lot and made some mistakes moving around, probably, and I sort of learned from some of those things and sort of found out from some of those experiences who you are and what you're really all about. So as long as I feel healthy and I'm excited about coaching and teaching and being around players, I would like to stay here for as long as I could.
"Of course, everybody knows you've got to be successful to do that, and hopefully we'll be able to continue to recruit and develop players so that we can."
Alabama athletic director Mal Moore tells a story about flying back to Tuscaloosa in January 2007 after hiring Saban away from the Miami Dolphins.
At one point, Saban turned to Moore and said, "You must think I'm a heck of a coach," and Moore responded, "Well, yeah, I do, and that's why I hired you." Saban then said, "Well, I'm not. If I can't get the kids in here, we can't win. You've got to get the athletes in here."
Has he ever.
Alabama has landed Rivals.com's top recruiting class nationally three of the past four years. The lone exception was 2010, when a crop headed by linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive backs Dee Milliner and DeQuan Menzie was ranked fifth.
"He's an excellent coach with an excellent staff," said Spurrier, who guided the Gators to six SEC championships in 12 years and led South Carolina to its first SEC East title last season. "They know how to recruit, and after they recruit them, they know how to coach them. That's how he does it. He's also been at two schools with tremendous traditions, which is helpful in recruiting."
Saban signed the nation's top class at LSU in 2003, and his '04 class in Baton Rouge was rated No. 2. So since '03, Saban has assembled a top-five class every year with the exception of his two seasons with the NFL's Dolphins and his first year at Alabama, when he arrived just weeks before signing day.
LSU was 26-20 in the four seasons before Saban's arrival, including a 3-8 finish in 1999, but Saban went 48-16 in five years with two SEC championships and the BCS title. Alabama was 26-24 in its four years before Saban, who has won 50 of 61 games with the Tide, though NCAA sanctions later vacated five wins in '07.
Saban is the only Alabama coach to lose to Louisiana-Monroe, and he's 4-5 against rival Auburn, but such negatives are getting harder and harder to find.
"Defensively is where you see his hand or his personality, the toughness and the aggressiveness, and then he'll mix some things on you," said Nutt, whose Rebels got waxed 52-7 last Saturday. "He does a lot of mixture with the fronts and the secondary, and then the blitz packages with different zone pressures that make you play faster than you want."
This used to be the most entertaining week of the year on WGOW-FM's "SportTalk" show, as Alabama and Tennessee fans would call in to praise their team and bash the other. The Vols won nine of 10 in the series from 1995 to 2004, but Alabama is undefeated against Tennessee under Saban and a four-touchdown favorite Saturday.
"In my 22 years with the show, this is the least anticipated Tennessee-Alabama game from a Tennessee perspective," co-host Scott "Quake" McMahen said.
Nobody endured more abuse on the air when Phillip Fulmer's Vols ruled the series than "Bama Jean" Adair, a former president of the Chattanooga Chapter of the Alabama Alumni & Friends Association. Now she dials in with great joy, believing that Saban just might be the best coach in program history.
"The Bear in his day could have 180 players on the sideline, and it's not like that anymore," she said. "Saban is all business, and he hires good coaches and gets his work done. I know some of these Bear-crazy people will be hacked off by me saying this, but I can't help it.
"I think he is better, and you can't help but have comfort that he's there. He never fails to thank the fans, and that's probably why there is a waiting list of 20,000 people to get into Tide Pride to get tickets."
Saban and former Florida coach Urban Meyer are the only SEC coaches other than Bryant to win multiple national championships. Meyer won two in six years with the Gators before retiring after last season.
LSU's Les Miles, who succeeded Saban and won a national title in 2007, is now his chief challenger, and the demands that wore Meyer down don't seem to affect Saban or Miles.
"What you're called on to do as a coach is to try and get your team to play to the best of their ability," Saban said. "I've always been kind of a process-oriented guy and not really result-oriented, and I've really tried to stay focused on that and not thinking about the consequences of what might happen, good or bad, but what you need to do to make things happen the way you would like for them to happen.
"That's kind of how I try to manage it, and it's always how I've tried to manage it."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...