Alabama Football: Nick Saban’s Dartboard, Part 1


Nick Saban’s first year as the Alabama head coach wasn’t quite the upper many had hoped for right out of the gate. It started off well, and the team looked promising in its first few games, before a few bad attitudes and a culture shock (transition from former Coach Mike Shula to Saban) gripped the program.

The SEC status quo remained the same by the end of the ’07 season. The only coaching shake-up was that of Arkansas getting rid of Houston Nutt — who got picked up by Ole Miss after firing Ed Orgeron — and hiring Bobby Petrino.

Tommy Tuberville stayed on at Auburn. Mark Richt was safe at Georgia (and had at the end of the season, by many accounts, the best on-field team). Phil Fulmer was fat and happy in Tennessee (figuratively, that is).

Even ol’ Sly Croom at Mississippi State was in good standing with his bosses, especially after taking down Alabama two seasons in a row.

Les Miles gave the SEC its second BCS Championship in as many seasons, even though he backed his way into the big game with a 10-2 record.

Oh how the 2008 season would change things: Alabama rose to the top, and Saban left a wake of coaching destruction that the rest of the SEC — and even other programs around the country — are still reeling from.

The Tide dominated so much that season that Saban’s success acted as a catalyst to four coaches getting pushed out of their respective programs that season. He also sent a few other programs to the grave that year in other ways, too, though it took a few years for those scenarios to play out.

In a two-part piece, we’ll break down Saban’s dartboard from the 2008 season, to which he applied several sharpened arrows.

Here are the first three coaches and/or programs Nick Saban nearly killed that season:

Tommy Bowden, Clemson:

Alabama opened the season against a top-10 Clemson team coached by then-hero Tommy Bowden, who had two tailbacks considered by many to be the best in the country (CJ Spiller and James Davis — “Thunder and Lightning,” as it were).

Nick Saban led an emphatic charge over Bowden’s club, ultimately dominating the Tigers in a 34-10 rout, in which tailbacks Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram slashed up and down the field (for 239 yards) and Saban’s defense held Davis and Spiller to an even zero yards, according to the stat sheet.

He hit Bowden in the mouth so hard that the Clemson coach actually called him the week after the game, asking Saban what he could do to improve his program. It sent the Tigers into such disrepair that Bowden was eventually forced out in the middle of the season, and Dabo Swinney was handed the reins.

Mark Richt, Georgia:

Mark Richt is still the head man at Georgia, but the night in late-September 2008 that he and the blacked-out stadium in Athens met the Tide won’t soon be forgotten by him or the UGA faithful.

Georgia started the season ranked No. 1, before dropping to No. 3 after a few underwhelming performances the first few games.

By the time they met the Tide that season — both teams’ fourth game — they’d organized a “black out” for Sanford Stadium, in which the team and the fans all wore black (with which they’d had much success the season before against Auburn.)

It was to no avail this time, though, as the Tide crushed the Dawgs, taking a 31-0 halftime lead in a near-perfect performance in all aspects of the game.

A team that had showed so much promise coming into the season watched itself fall from the ranks of the best in the country to the butt of many a joke the rest of the season.

It sent the program into shambles for the next few seasons, in which they posted an 8-5 record in 2009 and a 6-7 one in 2010. Many folks were calling for Richt’s head then, but he did get the program back to the SEC Championship game in 2011, thanks to a soft schedule and a very weak Eastern Division.

Richt’s club, in many ways, still hasn’t recovered from the beating that night.

Phil Fulmer, Tennessee:

It didn’t get much sweeter for many ‘Tide fans than seeing Saban run Fulmer out of Knoxville following a 29-9 thrashing in Neyland  Stadium in 2008. He was dismissed, like Bowden, in the middle of the season, but was allowed to coach the rest of the games that year.

Not only did that game eventually lead to Fulmer’s demise, but it got the ball rolling toward an abysmal few seasons for the Volunteers. Lane Kiffin coached the 2009 season and showed promise, but he bolted after just one season.

Derek Dooley replaced him and has headed the program in a near nosedive to the bottom of the SEC. Not only has the on-field product suffered greatly, but Tennessee’s Athletic Department is struggling for cash as season ticket sales have steadily declined during the past few seasons.

In part two, we’ll look at Saban’s effect on Tommy Tuberville and Auburn, Urban Meyer and Florida and Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State.

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