Alabama Football: Nick Saban with one unparalleled coaching statistic

Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

While Alabama football fans never tire of relishing in the accomplishments of college football’s two greatest coaches, the rest of the college football world is sometimes dismissive. Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant is considered by ‘others’ as irrelevant. Nick Saban is praised, sometimes begrudgingly, but often he is labeled as a great recruiter and developer of talent, but just an average game coach.

Recently we published what were defined as some lesser-known, but astounding Nick Saban achievements.

There is another Saban achievement not included in the recent post. It has taken a deep dive into data sources to uncover the factual details that follow. The outstanding site was essential to the process.

One note about historical records in college football is there are variations among sources. Different sites documenting team win-loss records early in the 20th century don’t 100% agree. The exceptions are few and the NCAA has seen no need to resolve them. For that reason, the list of coaches below does not include Michigan’s Feilding Yost and Harvard’s Percey Haughton, even though both had great success.

What was compiled was a list of the top college football coaches going back to Knute Rockne. One point of comparison was used – what was the percentage of the games these great coaches lost, in which their teams lost by two touchdowns or more. Those are defined as ‘bad’ losses.

A credible distinction can be made the greatest coaches are the ones whose teams are rarely beaten badly. Admittedly, the different eras of college football cloud the comparison. So too, do varying degrees in difficulty in team schedules. Despite those exceptions, the compiled stats clearly show Nick Saban’s Alabama football teams are extraordinarily prepared and perform more competitively in losses, than any other team – ever.

In 208 Alabama football games, Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide teams have lost by two or more touchdowns only five times. That equates to bad losses in Saban-coached Crimson Tide games of just 2.4% of the games.

Five Alabama Football ‘Bad’ Losses

  • Sugar Bowl after 2008 season; Utah 31 – Alabama 17
  • 2010 season; South Carolina 35 – Alabama 21
  • Sugar Bowl after 2013 season; Oklahoma 45 – Alabama 31
  • CFB Playoff National Championship; Clemson 44 – Alabama 16
  • CFB Playoff National Championship; Georgia 33 – Alabama 18

Does any other coach and program come close to matching Saban and the Tide?

The closest to Saban is Frank Leahy with three bad, Notre Dame losses in 107 games, for 2.8%.

No. 3 on the list is Bear Bryant with 10 bad losses in 287 Crimson Tide games, for 3.48%.

The records of other top college football coaches are:

  • Barry Switzer (Oklahoma) – 4.21%
  • Bud Wilkinson (Oklahoma) – 4.49%
  • Tom Osborne (Nebraska) – 4.89%
  • Knute Rockne (Notre Dame) – 4.92%
  • Woody Hayes (Ohio State) – 6.88%
  • Ara Parseghian (Notre Dame) – 6.9%
  • Bobby Bowden (Florida State) – 8.15%
  • John McKay (Southern Cal) – 8.57%
  • Joe Paterno (Penn State) – 10.04%

As was done in the earlier post of ‘astounding Saban achievements’ only coaches with 10 years or more tenure at their respective program were included. Shorter tenures would distort the sample.

No springboad for Bill O'Brien. dark. Next

Some may dispute the use of such data to measure the top coaches in college football history. A response to that is; this is a valid way to measure a high level of consistent success.