If you were to name a Mount Rushmore of SEC Coaches, the four faces would probably be Gen. Robert Neyland, Paul “Bear” Bryant, Nick Saban, and Steve Spurrier. Obviously, Spurrier and Saban represent the new age of SEC coaches, and while they have each had great success in their own way, their different styles of coaching have brought different styles of success.
Spurrier’s quotes in an article on Go Gamecocks about Saban’s approach to the game show how different the two coaches are and why they have achieved different results.
“I told Nick Saban one time, I said, ‘Nick, you don’t have to stay there until midnight and your teams would be just as good and win just as many,’ ” he said in the story. “He said, ‘If I could do it the way you do it, I would, but I don’t feel comfortable unless I try to cover every base, every angle, be totally prepared.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s probably why you do it.’ When I come out there, I feel comfortable we are ready to play. We have our game plan in, going to call this, call that and so forth. Everybody is different as far as when they feel they are totally prepared.”
These quotes in a nutshell, when analyzed, paint a picture of why they are both celebrated for different accomplishments. Spurrier is in coaching for the play-calling on the field. Saban is in it for everything that comes with running a program.
Spurrier’s legacy when he retires will not just be his success, which involves six SEC titles at Florida, including four straight, and a national title that was sandwiched between leading the Duke Blue Devils and South Carolina Gamecocks on their most successful runs in school history (we are not counting the NFL experiment). It will also be for introducing the college football world to a new exciting high-powered offense that put up basketball scores and made a bunch of quarterbacks that would become NFL busts look like future NFL superstars at the time. In short, Spurrier’s success is built around X’s and O’s. He has taken the fun of playing football video games online and translated it to the field, and if you asked me what coach in college
football I would want for one game, it would be him.
But that’s really all he’s in it for. This is the same Spurrier who for years was fine working as the offensive coordinator and head coach simply because he was in it to call plays. The same Spurrier who just recently said he doesn’t believe that teams play how they practice, or that spring practice is very important. The same Spurrier who would probably rather play a little golf, have a little fun off the field, and just enjoy what he does rather than dedicate himself to carving out the greatest coaching legacy college football has ever seen.
Can anybody picture Saban being the same way?
Saban’s legacy, rather than some groundbreaking X’s and O’s formula or memorable quotes, is carved out by his dominance toward the end of the BCS era, ability to win national championships at two schools, and to approach the legacy of the most revered coach in college football history at the same school as that coach, while Spurrier goes to places that didn’t have much history before he got there. Saban is all business, all the time, as we all know, and nobody at Alabama will complain about it.
What’s funny is that throughout the season you will see Saban make some questionable decisions over the course of a game. Last year’s field goal kick and fourth-down try against Auburn come to mind. But it’s so easy to forgive because of the solid ground he has built the Tide program on. It’s the brick house that is more reinforced than all other brick houses in college football, and most of the sport is littered with straw and stick houses. Saban is not just a defensive guru who develops players on and off the field. He makes sure he stocks the cupboard, is always dedicated to recruiting and thinking ahead, micro-managing everything to make sure his program stays in good shape, and really just operating as a CEO in addition to a football coach. I mean, we hardly see this guy smile, even after winning the national championship, but for the most part, he remains level-headed throughout the game even if things go wrong.
That’s because while Saban enjoys running a program, Spurrier simply enjoys calling plays and in-game coaching. And the difference in success shows.
Spurrier’s success at South Carolina, given that it’s South Carolina, is equally as impressive as what he did at Florida if you ask SEC fans. He will be known not just for winning, but for how he won. However, he only has one national championship, and that never would’ve happened had he coached in the BCS-era because the title game would’ve been Florida State vs. Arizona State. The conference championships with Florida and Duke and 11-win seasons with the Gamecocks,though, to go along with that one national championship, is enough to make him a legend.
Meanwhile, Saban’s accolades don’t need explaining. It doesn’t matter which team they were with or what the circumstances were. They are enough to ensure any coach legendary status.