Nick Saban, greatest coach ever or greatest college football coach?

NFL: JAN 01 Dolphins v Patriots
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With Alabama coach Nick Saban winning his seventh national championship, there’s no question that he’s the greatest coach in college football history. But is he the greatest coach ever, in any sport?

Simms and I had an unplanned debate on the subject earlier today on PFT Live. Saban definitely is the greatest college football coach. I can’t call him the best coach ever in any sport.

He had a chance to be the greatest in any sport, but he left the NFL after two seasons and a 15-17 record. After his first season, which resulted in a 9-7 finish, Saban chose trading a second-round pick to the Vikings for quarterback Daunte Culpepper (who had a wrecked knee) over signing as a free agent quarterback Drew Brees (who had a wrecked shoulder). Team doctors have been blamed for the decision, but does anyone really think that the Dolphins wouldn’t have signed Brees if that’s what Saban wanted?

A few years ago, Saban said that, if the Dolphins had signed Brees, Saban might still be the Dolphins coach. This assumes that Saban would have done with Brees in Miami what Sean Payton did with Brees in New Orleans. There’s simply not enough evidence of Saban’s NFL coaching process to allow that decision to be confidently made, especially since Saban made his way as a defensive specialist.

He’s still the best college coach ever, and he has said he has no unfinished business in the NFL. And if he wants to take the title of greatest coach ever (it currently belongs, in my view, to Saban’s friend, Bill Belichick), the NFL currently has seven vacancies. If he wants to give it a whirl with the Texans or the Chargers or the Jaguars or the Eagles or the Jets or the Lions or the Falcons, they’d surely consider his application favorably.

98 responses to “Nick Saban, greatest coach ever or greatest college football coach?

  1. 15-17 in the NFL. Definitely not he best ever. Maybe for NCAA. Belichick best ever for NFL. I think Saban may have been okay in the NFL but the way he departed Miami was bad.

  2. the answer is college. you have to prove it when the playing field is level. being able to recruit and lead the best group of players every year doesnt show me how good one can coach

  3. Considering the accomplishments of Richie Kotite, Saban will have to settle for being the greatest college coach ever.

  4. Greatest college coach ever. But you NFL and college are apples to oranges. NFL level includes managing and leading grown men who are being paid millions of dollars, dealing with salary caps, etc.

  5. Greatest college football coach… That Dolphins record prevents him from being the greatest ever in any sport… Also, I think John Wooden might have that one wrapped up forever.

  6. Greatest college football coach. His tenure with the Dolphins is why he may not be the greatest coach ever.

  7. College football only. Don’t forget, John Wooden of UCLA basketball fame won 10 national championships in 12 years.

  8. Why leave college football? He’s got a factory that’s pumping out national championships, Heisman trophy winners, and NFL talent. He could win 2-3 more championships over the next several seasons. Go for double digits Nick.

  9. I imagine All the great games if the Dolphins weren’t idiots and they had let Saban trade for Brees.

    Brees and Saban vs Brady and Belichick for a decade.

  10. Who knows if he is actually the greatest college coach. We do know that Alabama is the greatest recruiting school. The 2nd string of Bama can beat most college teams. The bottom line is we will never know until the college game gets a draft order(like a recruitment order system) or if players actually do eventually get paid they have a set $ Cap. I am not an advocate for any of this, but until then… does the coach make the players or does the players make the coach?

  11. Greatest college coach ever no doubt, just wish it had been in the NFL with the Dolphins. =(

  12. History shows when he’s on a level playing field with other coaches and organizations he’s quite average as his stint in the NFL shows. However, when he’s consistently able to get the cream of the crop recruiting classes and is playing with substantially greater talent than the rest of the country, yes he is great. If you have the best players then, you should win.

  13. The GOAT gets old after awhile. The game has changed so much that it’s hard to compare todays coaches to those of 50 or 60 years ago. Most reporting on the game today would struggle to come up with top coaches in the 50’s 60’s or 70’s.

  14. Best college coach ever… or best recruiter ever? In college, you recruit talent and because Alabama has built a perennial winner, kids want to be a part of that. Basically, the best talent is funnelled to him. Saban has a great football mind; wins and the associatio with Bill Belichick reinforces that. Hard to refer to him as an NFL coach since his stint with the Dolphins (not counting the time with the Browns) was so abbreviated. If we are talking the greatest football coach ever, then no one can compare to Belichick. With the circumstances he has, the limitations of salary caps, post-season appearances, and Super Bowl wins, there is no doubt Belichick is a better coach than Saban.

  15. Seeing what Bama has to work with it seems plausible that any HS coach in America could get that talent to CFB playoffs year in and out. Best recruiter? Maybe.

  16. I just want to know when the NFL is going to give Bama a franchise so that the team can starting playing some reasonable competition. That game last night was more lopsided than the final score.

  17. It’s hard to compare different eras, but he is the greatest modern college football coach. That said college football has it’s own set of issues right now and it’s pretty much Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, then everybody else

  18. “Saban said that, if the Dolphins had signed Brees, Saban might still be the Dolphins coach.”

    This indicates why he is not the best of anything, college coach included. He’s the foreman in a football factory that benefits disproportionately from the incentives that drive college players.

    He’s never had to deal with the adversity or uncertainty that most pro coaches face on a regular basis. He’s never had to wonder when and if the pipeline of talent will dry up. Swap him out with any of a number of leading college coaches, in that school, and you’d get the same outcome.

  19. Who is even asking this question? Might as well ask who is the greatest minor league baseball manager ever…

  20. Being perpetually great is hard in college and the pros. But it is much more difficult at the pro level. Here’s why…

    1) Once you attain success at college, it is easier to recruit the best players. And so, year after year, you consistently get some of the best players to replace graduating players.

    2) There are some games on your schedule that are essentially unlosable. Arkansas State? Louisiana Lafayette? Even some conference games. Tennessee? These are perpetually guaranteed wins. There’s nothing like that in the NFL.

    Really, how many games does Alabama play each year that they can legitimately lose. Maybe 4 or 5? You can lose almost any game any week in the NFL.

    3) Roster size. There are no 100+ player rosters in the NFL. In college when a key player gets hurt, you can easily replace him if you are premiere program. In the NFL, it can cost you games.

    4) Playoffs. There are more rounds and chances for upsets in the NFL. It’s just more difficult for a great pro team to win a SB than a great college team to win a National Championship.

  21. A certain amount of perennial success is locked into some top college programs through recruiting. Does anybody doubt that the nation’s top high school athletes go to Alabama year after year?

  22. College. When you simply have better players from recruitment, it’s a lot easier to win consistently.

  23. I couldn’t disagree with Mike more. Just because he’s not a professional level coach, he’s not the all time best? 7 National Championships suggest otherwise. And this is coming from an Oklahoma football fan.

  24. Greatest college coach, I suppose. He’s created an amazing system for recruiting top talent and turning them into championship teams. Its hard to argue against him being the best college coach of all time.

    I will say this though: its hard to compare him to coaches pre-internet. Today there are a few major websites where millions (billions?) of dollars are spent finding, evaluating, tracking top players from all around the country. So a lot of the work is “done” for the coaches today. They still need to recruit the players, sign them, keep them happy, and produce on the field by being a great coach. But the top programs get a leg up in the beginning compared to coaches in the 60s, etc. Texas teams primarily only had Texas players. Florida, florida players, and so on

  25. It’s fun fodder for talk but it is all apples and Oreos, you can’t compare different sports and come up with a greatest coach. You can’t even compare NFL and college there are too many variables. In college Nick is recruiting boys and attempting to turn them into men, the NFL you’re dealing with already grown men.

  26. He is a great recruiter – but this does not qualify as a great coach.
    He hasn’t exactly been innovative, hasn’t run any new fangled schemes on defense or out-coached equally talented teams. It’s not so hard to be a good coach when you consistently have the most talent on the field.
    That’s why he flamed out in the NFL and LIED while he jumped ship. He realized he just could not be as successful in the NFL when the talent level is more equal and perennial winning makes it more difficult – not easier to build a high quality roster. This would take outstanding coaching ability – which he lacks.
    He is where he is supposed to be – coaching kids, not men.

  27. Greatest coach ever in any sport. Joe McCarthy 9 trips to World Series, 7 Wold Series championships, in 24 seasons never had a losing record…

  28. VisionTim says:
    January 12, 2021 at 1:09 pm
    Doesn’t Phil Jackson give Belichick a run for that title?
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Sorry Tim, the only name even in the conversation with Belichick is Red Auerbach

  29. You sure get defensive when someone disagrees with you Mike….. at least you sure did on this mornings show. Must be the lawyer in you…..

  30. It’s SOOOO impressive when the guy with by far the most talent wins! They should take the first and second team All-Pros and have them play the 2020 Jags or Jets…and when the All-Pro team wins we should all go WOW…that coach sure is something! Is he the best of all time or what?

  31. I think you could say he is the best college recruiter and football coach of all time. But as far as the best coach period…no way. John Wooden and Vince Lombardi come to mind.

  32. Saban is an amazing recruiter – of both players and assistant coaches. He always seems to have the best OC in the country, who invariably leaves to be a head coach somewhere, and Saban brings in the next great OC. It helps to have the talent, needless to say. If you look at a head coach as a CEO/manager type, then Saban is by far the greatest college coach ever. But at the next level? With a limited roster, contracts, players who make a lot more than the coach, a draft, and the inability to stockpile blue-chippers on the second team (never mind the third team), he had a chance and didn’t make the grade.

  33. JJ and Carroll won championships at both levels, Shula with multiple teams and Gibbs with multiple QBs. Until Saban wins in the pros and Belichick wins without Brady, the answer is no.

  34. John Wooden is great and all, but that was a different time. If he could do that in today’s game maybe. It’s harder now to be a college coach. That’s like giving the Celtics, Lakers, Yankees, and Canadiens credit for their championships that happened 60+ years ago. Modern era sports is a whole lot harder. Saban has built a great machine in Alabama.

  35. College only. Possibly one of the greatest recruiters as well. You balance out the teams like the NFL and he can’t dominate the same way he does in college where his teams are regularly probably better than the bottom team in the NFL.

  36. I think building the program at LSU is more impressive than what he’s done at Alabama. Their rosters are so stacked it’s really hard to evaluate his coaching.

  37. I’d put John Wooden at the top of all coaches. Next would be Red Auerbach. And then, definitely, Jerry Glanville, defensive coordinator of the 1977 Falcons’ Gritz Blitz, which held opponents to a record 129 points in 14 games, an absurd average of 9.2 points a game. When he became the head coach in the 90’s, the man left tickets at “will call” every game for Elvis. Now that’s true greatness.

  38. John Wooden, Nick Saban and Bill Bellichik are the Three Greatest.

    Put them in any order you like.

    If Saban stayed in the NFL, he would have won A Super Bowl or two. What he has done at LSU and Alabama convinces me of that. They would have built it up.

    Don’t Forget, he wanted Drew Brees, and knew what he could with Brees. Dolphins said no.

    That just HAS to hurt if you are the Dolphins.

  39. Greatest college coach yes….but it’s pushing it calling him the best coach when he hasn’t won in the NFL

  40. @laxcoach37 said it for me. Why always this need to anoint someone the GOAT? It is impossible (not “nearly” impossible, just impossible) to account for all the variables in any sport to say someone crosses every team, every rule change, every economic etc to say someone is better than someone else. Saban coaches a great recruiting school. That gives him a significant edge over everyone else. I am not even willing to say he is the greatest college coach EVER. In this time? Maybe, but can’t discount the variables.

  41. Let’s see how good the guy is when the playing field is leveled…oh wait, we did that already.

  42. It’s not that difficult to win at Alabama when they get the best players year after year after year (thanks to wealthy boosters). Just about anyone could win if they always had the best team. When he was in the NFL he was an utter failure. The only reason he can win now is the deck is stacked.

    It’s similar to the Connecticut women’s basketball team. Forest Gump could win with that team because they regularly get all the best players.

  43. Certainly college but with the playoffs the way they are now, it’s always going to be Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and some patsy. I think the final four every year should be Alabama (A team); Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama (B team). And probably it’ll be Alabama A and Alabama B playing for the title.

  44. Recruiting is the key to winning in college, and I haven’t seen anyone recruit any better than Saban. So if now is the right time to call someone the GOAT, then I’d say Saban is the recruiting GOAT.

  45. If he was the greatest coach ever he wouldn’t have bombed out of the NFL. He benefits from Alabama’s recruiting pipeline.

  46. Eh, it’s college football. Who’s the greatest Minor League Baseball Team Manager? I dunno….

  47. Why not just keep it at, he has won the most titles. The best of all time is the guy who won the most games with the least amount of talent. Thats coaching. OSU, Clemson, Bama all get the best players from around the country so why wouldnt those coaches benefit from their superior abilities?

  48. Can’t really compare college and NFL. Recruiting and the talent gap aside, one thing no one really seems to think that much about is the constant movement of players in and out of the program in college–four years, five for redshirts at most, and then they’re gone.

    In the pros, you can have the exact same player-coach combos for years on end, and even for the best coaches, it eventually gets stale, and the team suffers (e.g. Andy Reid in Philadelphia). Saban didn’t last long enough in the NFL to run into that problem–which says something in and of itself–but it’s not something that a college coach would ever have to deal with.

    There’s a reason most successful NFL head coaches are hired from the ranks of NFL assistants, rather than colleges.

  49. Scotty bowman won multiple titles building multiple teams in different decades, in a much harder sport to win a title.

  50. edelmanfanclub says:
    January 12, 2021 at 12:48 pm
    15-17 in the NFL. Definitely not he best ever. Maybe for NCAA. Belichick best ever for NFL. I think Saban may have been okay in the NFL but the way he departed Miami was bad.
    —————————————————————————————————
    Bill was hired as the Jets HC on 4 January 2000 and resigned the next day. Imagine if Bill had won all of those championships with a different QB every other year. He didn’t.

  51. If you can look at his NFL record and call him a candidate for the greatest coach ever in any sport then I’m sorry, your opinion doesn’t count.

    Think about the championship teams of NFL dynasties, then bring in other sports dynasties from baseball and hockey (Yankees? Montreal Canadians?)

    REALLY? Nick Saban?

    That would be a hard “NO”

  52. Belichick was great with one QB (Brady), yet Saban has done it with (5). Hard to argue that Saban can’t coach up players, develop schemes and win championships when his cast of players is constantly changing. On the other hand, Belichick has failed every season – but one – without Brady.

  53. I’ll bite on BB being the “greatest coach.”

    I actually defended him as such this year a little after Brady left, saying we’ll see how it plays out. If after two years and no luck, how long before we start saying Reid is a better coach than Belichick? Look at each one’s 20 year resume and what they’ve done. A handful of otherwise mediocre QBs and Reid still had Philly competitive year in and out (5 NFC championship appearances don’t happen by accident).

    Now Reid has the QB he wanted all along. Let’s see where this goes…

  54. when the championship was decided by polls and not an actual game on the field-who could know.

    Give me woody Hayes.

  55. College only. When you recruit only the best college players in the country every season, it’s a lot easier to put a beat down on teams. He wouldn’t be able to handle (intimidate) NFL players like he does college kids. He did walk out on the Dolphins.

  56. John Wooden is the greatest college coach ever. No question.

    Saban is the greatest college football coach ever.

    Simple.

  57. How good would he be coaching with academic requirements like Notre Dame or Michigan? Fact is he has had the biggest recruiting advantage similar to what the Yankees enjoyed during the 70’s and 80’s. How many other coaches would have won just as many, if not more than he has with same talent? He gets credit for being a great recruiter but also has advantages few others coaches have ever had.

  58. I hate the patriots, but could you imagine the Hoodie holding down a college team? They would have to rewrite the rulebook if he coached college.
    Sabens greatest college coach.

    Different rules, you can stack the deck in college

  59. Everyone bagging on Saban’s wins because Bama has “superior talent”. Well how do you think he GOT that talent? Best recruiter who ever lived and sorry haters, but guess what school just wrapped up the #1 recruiting class for 2021?

  60. Alabama sure doesn’t care… They are reaping the benefits of having him…
    The NFL should be grateful because they have been the recipient of so many great players well coached with tremendous talent for over a decade.

  61. Florio,by ‘any sport’ I presume you are actually only referring to those sports played almost exclusively in North America i.e. Gridiron, Baseball, Basketball and Hockey. That’s a much smaller field.

  62. Please!! I know this is a football board but when Florio wants to put Saban up there one questions his sports acumen. John Wooden 10 championships with UCLA, 7 in a row. Tell me if Saban gets anywhere close to that. Then talk about him being the greatest in all sports.

  63. Best football college coach. He would have to win at the next level to be the greatest football coach of all time.

    As far as the greatest coach of all time, that could be current Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho, who has won just about everything there is to win with multiple clubs in the ‘other’ football.

  64. Chose Culpepper over Brees.

    What else do you need to know.

    He’s a college coach at the best/most supportive/rabid school.

    That’s it…

  65. The college game and pro game for head coaches are different species of still loosely related. Charisma is a must at one for recruitment and you must be a little bit of a salesman. The other requires neither of those must attributes. A higher analytical ability to problem solve when what you do best is stopped seems a must at the pro level and you better be able to deal with grown ass men not kids. Two are so far apart comparing them is like trying to get a good look at someone in a funhouse mirror everything is skewed. Saban is a very good football mind. The degree that is compared to his peers is easy to tell in college, murky at the pro level at best. Championships do sustain a debate though. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

  66. Bowman and Auerbach in other sports.
    Paul Brown in football. He created blueprint of how to coach. 7 titles in 10 years in pros, national title in college, and 5-6 mythical national titles at HS level. All coaches copy what he did. In the tree….Noll, Shula, Walsh, Blanton Collier, etc. Walsh in particular affects the game to this day (short passing game). Where do you think he learned most of it?

  67. Lol he isn’t even coaching at the highest level of his own sport. How could he even be the greatest football coach of all time? Much less the greatest coach of any sport ever? Saban is in a glorified minor league. No draft, no salary cap. Its endless free agency with no limitations and no risk because you don’t even have to pay anyone. The playoffs have 4 freakin teams. And most of the best opposing coaches in the league accept promotions to the NFL. Get out of here. Wow, you and your half of a future NFL team dropped 60 on Eastern Mississippi Jr. Tech Community College with their roster full of future car salesmen and high school teachers. Who gives a crap. Do it in the big leagues if you even want to be considered as the best. Johnny Manziel was really good in college too.

  68. Saban’s a great college coach and no doubt there are special challenges to coaching at someplace like Alabama, but there are HUGE advantages to coaching there in terms of talent, money for facilities and top assistants, etc. A guy like Bill Snyder turned Kansas State into a ranked team with guys who not only could never have played at Alabama but also weren’t recruited by schools like OU and Texas who he was beating on a pretty consistent basis. THAT is true coaching.

  69. College is a given, ever u really can’t say. For me its a decade, generation thing for other sports. Take basketball or nfl football of 60s-70s is a totally different game than today’s product. Saying Tom Brady is the GOAT is funny as hell to me. If ur going to set just championships titles to calling someone the goat then he is.

  70. For a pair that considers themselves woke, they don’t even consider Geno Auriema with 11 national championships with UConn and a career that includes 90 game and 111 game winning streaks beating out John Wooden? Heck, maybe even a better college recruiter than Saban.

  71. 1) He didn’t fail in the NFL.. he quit, and lied while doing it. The Dolphins were actually building something when he peaced out. However, his choice of Culpepper over Drew Brees should be considered the worst in NFL history (even if he denies it). 2) Until Belichick can prove he can win without Tom Brady… the GOAT NFL coach will remain Don Shula. Shula won in 3 different era’s with 3 different play styles while accumulating the most wins in NFL history. No coach, in any sport, has ever done that. Rather than be a “product of his time” Shula was able to adjust to changing metrics. He went from a 3 yards and a cloud of dust coach to letting the most skilled passer in NFL history break every record in the book. Belichick , nor any other coach has ever been able to do that.

  72. To prove what I just said about Shula… how many people remember Redskins head coach Vince Lombardi? Browns head coach Bill Belichick? Stanford HC Bill Walsh? Meanwhile before Shula became an all time great he had already taken an upstart Colts team lead by an ancient Johnny Unitas’ back up QB (Earl Morrall) to the Super Bowl… 3 years later he took the Dolphins to 3 straight SB’s including an undefeated season.

  73. Let’s be real,college football is about recruiting not coaching. If you want to say he’s the greatest recruiter ever yes he is. Nick had the chance to show that on an even playing field he could take a team to a championship. The first sign of trouble over a bad decision he himself made.Nick tucked his tail and ran. Now I’m not saying he’s not a good coach,he is. But most coaches that are good at x’s and 0’s could take the talent his college gets and win championships. Had he not left the NFL and gone to Alabama they’d have these championships anyway,at least most of them.

  74. He learned a lot from belichick as he has said many times. He also knew he had no future in the same division as the GOAT

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