The Alabama football fanbase has a reputation for being spoiled. After fifteen years of watching an average team, a head coach who abhors average came and changed our fortunes.
After years of Mike Dubose, Dennis Franchione, Mike Price and Mike Shula, Alabama football needed a savior. Mired in mediocrity, the football team was a shell of itself. The glory days were history.
My head slumped into my hands as Alabama dropped its fifth straight to rival Auburn 22-15 in 2006. Seeing Tuberville raise five fingers signifying the number of victories in a row against the Tide made my stomach weak. Next, news came that head coach Mike Shula received the ax after an underwhelming season. Alabama had to make a home run hire.
Even though Alabama produced great players such as Shaun Alexander, Chris Samuels, and Andre Smith, recruiting was subpar. A Top 25 class was a win for the fan base. The Tide suffered losses against Northern Illinois, Central Florida, Kentucky and Southern Mississippi during this downturn. Even worse were the two losses to Louisiana Tech under Mike Dubose. Alabama had one SEC championship during that painful era, and that was with Mike Dubose in 1999.
The need for a savior
Alabama athletic director Mal Moore was turned down by one of the hottest coaches in college football, West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez. Tide fans are relieved the hiring never occurred given his mediocre record with the Michigan Wolverines.
Moore’s next stop was to the Miami Dolphins to persuade Nick Saban to return to college football. Saban took over as head coach in 2005. His NFL record was a paltry 15-17.
However, Saban led the LSU Tigers to a national title in 2003. He garnished a reputation as a recruiting giant by putting a proverbial fence around the state of Louisiana. Great recruiting plus developing the talent made the Tigers a tough team in the SEC after years of being a bottom feeder.
Sitting in my mother’s guest bedroom in early January 2007, I watched intently as Alabama’s 27th head coach landed at Tuscaloosa regional airport. My unbridled enthusiasm for what was to come for Alabama football could not be contained. Later at his first Crimson Tide press conference, Nick Saban said,
I think everybody should take the attitude that we’re working to be a champion, that we want to be a champion in everything that we do. Every choice, every decision, everything that we do every day, we want to be a champion.
After his press conference, Alabama nation knew it had a winner. The days of fielding mediocre teams were coming to an end. Saban was the ultimate program builder.
The beginning of the dynasty
Saban’s first season provided high anticipation beginning with a then-record 92,138 fans at the spring game. Even though he finished the season 7-6, all knew good things were to come.
Although Saban lost to Louisana Monroe in Tuscaloosa, there was little panicking. You could see the culture slowly turning.
2008 started with a bang with the top recruiting class in the country. The supreme class consisted of stars Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Donta Hightower, Mark Barron and Marcell Dareus. Next, came the Tide’s demolishing of Clemson on opening night, and the “blackout” whooping of Georgia in Athens, and demolishing Auburn 36-0 leading to the resignation of the vile Tuberville.
Alabama was 12-0 before losing the SEC championship game to Florida. In only his second season at the Capstone, the Tide was rolling beyond anyone’s expectations.
The fruits of his labor
Saban produced two Heisman Trophy winners in Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry. Before these two came along, Alabama had zero winners in its storied history. The highest finish in the Heisman voting was wide receiver David Palmer finishing third in 1993.
Both players have been outstanding stewards of the Heisman Trust and the University. Trent Richardson, AJ McCarron, and Amari Cooper received invitations to New York.
The 66-year-old head coach makes sure his players graduate. Before Saban arrived, Alabama’s 2006 APR (Academic Progress Rate) was 944. This past year, it was 984. That is one better than every school in the conference besides Vanderbilt who scored 993.
Seeing stars such as Derrick Henry, Amari Cooper, and Ha Ha Clinton Dix come back to graduate college after successful careers in the NFL says something about Saban.
Program Building 101
Twelve players drafted from the Tide this past April is an SEC record. Remember in 2007, zero Alabama players heard their name called by an NFL franchise. 77 Crimson Tide players drafted since Saban took the sidelines in Tuscaloosa is damn impressive. Player contracts for former Tide players in the NFL are in excess of $548 million.
The handsome results come from how hard Saban recruits. Alabama had a significant run of six straight number one recruiting classes. He has the Tide on pace for another top-notch class this season.
Alabama football teams have won five national titles in the last nine years. The legendary coach can surpass Alabama coaching legend Bear Bryant with one more national title. Saban has built a powerhouse that has made Alabama fans kings of the world.
Here is a Nick Saban quote that sums up his success at Alabama,
All of these accomplishments represent the rabid Alabama fans who demand a high standard. It is a good thing that Mal Moore decided to catch a private plane to Miami and talk to Saban, whose expectations exceeds our fanbase.
In conclusion, Alabama fans continue to thrive off of Alabama’s dominance and revel off the hatred from opposing fans. It is well deserved after fifteen years of average-ness. Trust me, I lived through it myself.