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LSU-Bama Preview: Bama Before/After Saban
UA Head Coach Nick Saban
UA Head Coach Nick Saban
Posted Nov 2, 2011

Records. Recruiting. Stature. Championships. CFN's Terry Johnson examines how things have changed in Capstone since St. Nick arrived in Tuscaloosa?

By Terry Johnson

When Nick Saban arrived at Capstone for the 2007 season, his first mission was to return the Crimson Tide to its championship form, after it had slowly declined over the previous ten years.

Things started heading in the wrong direction when Mike Dubose took over in 1997. In Dubose’s first season, the Tide dropped from 9-3-1 to 4-7. Alabama rebounded to win an SEC Championship in 1999, but suffered through another losing season a year later, limping through a 3-9 season, which ultimately cost Dubose his job.

Under former Crimson Tide QB Mike Shula’s watch, the program officially hit rock bottom. In 2003, Shula succeeded Dennis Franchione, who left for Texas A&M after two forgettable seasons. During Shula’s short tenure, the Tide failed to achieve a winning season in three of his four seasons.

To summarize the decline, from 1997 to 2006 the Crimson Tide won only one SEC Championship, and suffered four losing seasons.

Then Saint Nick arrived in 2007, bringing his blueprint for success.

The blueprint was simple: going forward the Crimson Tide would recruit with the best programs in the nation, play physical defense, force turnovers, and limit mistakes on offense.

His first season was rough, though he had ten years to undo. Playing primarily with finesse players from Mike Shula’s regime, the Crimson Tide jumped out to a 6-2 start, but lost five games in a row – including an embarrassing loss to Louisiana Monroe - before winning the Independence Bowl to finish 7-6.

It was between Saban’s first and second season in Tuscaloosa that he left a lasting legacy on the program. That offseason Saban recruited his first class with a full year's effort, one that would prove to be the backbone of his 2009 championship season. In that class were DE Marcel Dareus, DT Terrence Cody, WR Julio Jones, and RB Mark Ingram – who would go on win the first Heisman Trophy in Alabama’s prestigious history.

Aided by the infusion of new talent, Alabama could finally play Nick Saban’s style of defense, which stresses the importance of stopping the run. After finishing seventh in the conference against the run in Shula’s final season, the Crimson Tide led the SEC in run defense in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, they finished second in the conference against the run, finishing behind eventual national champion Auburn.

As Alabama’s defense improved, so did its record.

In 2008, the Crimson Tide went undefeated in the regular season before losing to eventual national champion Florida, and undefeated Utah in the Sugar Bowl, to finish the season 12-2.

In 2009, Alabama went 14-0, along the way avenging its loss against Florida in the 2008 SEC title game. They also won their first national championship since 1992.

The following season, the Tide replaced nine starters on defense from their national championship team. However, by playing Saban’s aggressive defense, the Tide still fielded one of the better units in the SEC, and finished 10-3.

With Nick Saban’s system in place, Alabama won 10 games in three consecutive seasons. The last Bama coach to accomplish that feat?

Someone named Paul “Bear” Bryant.

Saban has a long way to go to earn the full distinction that Coach Bryant did, but he has turned Alabama into a physical football team and a consistent winner – something his four predecessors failed to do. Moreover, just two days removed from his sixtieth birthday, he still has many years of coaching ahead of him.

How much better is Alabama under Nick Saban? The numbers speak for themselves:

From 1997-2006: 1 SEC Championship, 1 SEC title game, 4 losing seasons. Under Saban: 1 National Championship, 1 SEC Championship, 2 SEC title game appearances, zero losing seasons.

In addition, if the Crimson Tide can prevail against LSU in Saturday night’s historic SEC showdown, they will likely add another SEC championship – and possibly a BCS championship - to Saban’s already impressive resume.

Follow Terry on Twitter @TPJCollFootball

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