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Just The Sports: Don't Get Too Excited

Just The Sports

Friday, January 05, 2007

Don't Get Too Excited

For a variety of reasons, the hiring of Nick Saban by the University of Alabama to head up their football program should be met with subdued excitement. Not the least of the reasons is there is no guarantee how long Saban will be content coaching in Tuscaloosa before he decides to move on to another challenge in his professional life. However, the one that is more important and what I will be focusing on in this post is to pose the question of just how much of a positive impact Saban will have on the Crimson Tide's ability to win games.

Much has been made of the fact Saban has only had one losing season in his coaching career with the one losing season occurring in 2006 when he led the Miami Dolphins to a 6-10 season. While it is true that this is the only time one of his teams has finished with a below-.500 record, do not forget that while at Michigan State, Saban only coached one group of players that finished more than one game above .500; in his last season at Michigan State, the Spartans went 9-2. Even so, Saban still managed to get himself hired at Louisiana State University.

At LSU, Saban acquired a reputation after he supposedly transformed the LSU football program to national prominence although there is no evidence he actually did anything spectacular in Baton Rouge. True, Gerry DiNardo, the coach Saban was hired to replace, had a coaching record of 7-15 in his last two seasons at LSU, but the two years before that he had gone 26-9. While it was evident the Tigers were going in the wrong direction, it is not as though a vast overhaul of the program was needed, which is a good thing since Saban did not provide one.

Saban's tenure compared to DiNardo's tenure yields similar statistics, both offensively and defensely in terms of completion percentage (allowed), yards per pass attempt (allowed), and yards per rush (allowed). Actually, there is only one true difference between the two coaches' teams and that is that Saban's quarterbacks threw more passes per game and therefore passed for more yards per game. So why was he considered a savior of LSU football?

The reason why what Saban did at LSU is so applicable to what he will most likely be able to accomplish at Alabama is because Alabama under Mike Shula is neither statistically significantly worse nor better than what LSU was under Gerry DiNardo, meaning Saban will have entered two different SEC schools under practically identical circumstances. If Saban does anything, it will be to average one more win per year than what Shula did. Should he out-perform this prediction, I will be greatly surprised in the same way I have been surprised that Nick Saban has been given this largely undeserved reputation for being a genius coach.



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