Like It Or Not, Nick Saban Will Go Down as the Greatest College Football Coach of All Time

Hated by just about every college football fan outside of the state of Alabama, Nick Saban has built one of the most successful football programs in the modern era during his first decade in Tuscaloosa.

In just about every measurable one can throw out, Saban and the Crimson Tide are at or very close to the top since his arrival in 2007. We’ll visit some of those measurable shortly.

With his signing of another contract extension, which was approved Tuesday morning, Saban is locked in to the head job at the Capstone until the year 2024. That’s eight more seasons.

We’re going to look at some of the possible considerations that go into naming someone the greatest coach of all time, where Nick Saban stacks up currently, and where he will potentially be by 2024, assuming he finishes out his contract.

Alltime Wins

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  • Saban current- 210 (205 with vacated wins from “textbook scandal” sanctions)
  • Leader: Joe Paterno- 409

Saban will never catch the all-time wins record. It may never be broken. Joe Paterno coached for so long at Penn State and is nearly 200 wins ahead of Saban, who is the active wins leader. But prorated through 2024, at an average of 12 wins per season, Saban would sit at 306 victories. That would be good for fifth most in the modern era.

All-time Bowl Wins

  • Saban current- 11
  • Leader: Joe Paterno 24

Another seemingly unbreakable record by JoePa. Saban has won eight bowls in his ten seasons at Alabama, with the other three coming in his stint at LSU. Prorated to the end of his contract, he’d have 6 more bowl victories, placing him at No. 3 on the all-time list, eeking past Bear Bryant’s 15.

National Championships

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  • Saban current- 5
  • Leader: Bear Bryant- 6

This record is very much in reach to at least be tied. Heck, the Tide were one epic game from Deshaun Watson away from tying the record 4 months ago. In ten years at Alabama, Saban has four national championships and five national title game appearances. He and the Tide are the only program to make the College Football Playoff all three seasons since its inception.

Prorating national titles doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense, but with eight more years worth of chances, it’d be hard to argue Saban won’t at least tie the record. Since winning his first national championship at LSU, he’s never gone more than three collegiate seasons between winning it all. Also consider, it took Bryant nearly 40 years to get to six. Saban is at five in just 21 years.

First Round Draft Picks 

  • Saban current- 27
  • Leader: Joe Paterno- 33

It’s not going to take eight more seasons for Saban to sit atop this list. He’s averaged just under three first-round picks per year since 2007, which includes zero of Mike Shula’s players going in Saban’s first two seasons. Currently the Tide have between three and five potential first rounders according to various publocations’ “Way too early mock drafts.” The question here might be just how far out of reach Saban may put this record. Prorating his current output to 2024 would give him 51. The next closest active head coach is Urban Meyer with 19. He’s the best bet to catch Saban if anyone can.

Total Draft Picks

  • Saban current- 105
  • Leader: Joe Paterno- 251

Another milestone of Paterno’s that may be unmatchable. Saban is the closest active coach, and sits at No. 4 all-time, trailing Steve Spurrier (106), Bobby Bowden (182) and Paterno. At an average of six Bama players drafted annually, he’d still be almost thirty short of second place at 153. Their longevity pretty much guarantees the two patriarchs will keep their place atop this list. Both Paterno and Bowden coached 40 or more seasons to reach that number. If he retires in 2024, Saban will have coached a paltry 29 seasons.

Top Recruiting Classes

  • Saban current- Seven No. 1 classes according to 247Sports composite rankings.
  • Leader- Saban

Saban’s level of recruiting success is unmatched in the era of scholarship and class-size restrictions. Since 2002 when 247Sports began their composite rankings, Saban has put together 11 top-5 classes. His only recruiting class since coming to Tuscaloosa that wasn’t in the top 5 was the 2007 class, which was littered with recruits from Mike Shula. He also locked up back-to-back top-3 classes with LSU in the 2002-03 seasons. With eight more seasons at the helm, the number of blue-chip players at Alabama will only continue to grow.

Success With Multiple Programs

This factor isn’t one that can necessarily be quantified, or given a leader, but it is important. Not to discount what Paterno did at Penn State, or Bowden at Florida State, or even the Frank Beamers of the world, but proven success at more than one school is certainly an important facet of the “GOAT” discussion. For those guys, times were different. Coaches and schools stayed loyal to one another. It’s doubtful we’ll ever see coaches with the tenure of the aforementioned men. Bob Stoops has the longest active tenure with one program, but believe that he’s the last of a dying breed in major college football.

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Saban and Meyer are in a class of their own when it comes to measured success with multiple teams. Meyer has seen success at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and now Ohio State.

In his first head coaching stop, Saban won nine games with Toledo. Then Saban led Michigan State to its best record in thirty years in his final season with the program before moving to LSU. With the Tigers, he took the team to five straight bowls. Of the five, LSU won three bowls, including a national championship. And in his most recent stop, at Alabama, Saban has built a machine. Four national titles, ten straight bowl appearances, seven straight No. 1 recruiting classes, 22 first-round draft picks, etc.

If the rumors of his defection to Texas after Brown’s departure had been true, I’d be willing to bet the Longhorns would be sitting pretty today with a shiny recruiting class and a high place in the preseason rankings.

Looking Forward 

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College football fans, players, coaches and pundits from the other 49 states (and even a minority at that “other school” within the state) cannot stand Nick Saban. Like him or not, though, you’re wearing blinders if you don’t think he’s put together one of the greatest coaching careers of all time.

There’s a growing number of Crimson Tide fans who believe Saban has already passed the God-like Bear Bryant. Boy, it must be nice to wonder which of your head coaches is not only the best in your school’s history, but the best in all of college football history.

In just about every category one can put forth for conversation about what makes up the greatest head coach ever, Saban is at or near the top. His level of sustained success at Alabama alone is more than many programs, let alone other coaches, could hope for.

Alabama fans, rejoice for eight more seasons with Saint Nick leading the program. To everyone else, good luck catching up.

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