Is Nick Saban the Greatest Coach in College Football History?

Alabama head coach Nick Saban has tied “Bear” Bryant for the most national titles in history, but is he the greatest college coach ever?

Updated: Jan. 14, 2018 • 10:12 AM ET

Nick Saban continues to be at the center of the college football world.

Roughly one week ago in a thrilling overtime victory over SEC rival Georgia in this season’s College Football Playoff National Championship game, Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban officially clenched his sixth national title. Saban not only tied legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s record for the most national titles won by a college football coach, the football world is wondering if Saban is the greatest coach in college football history.


And as of now, Saban shows no signs of slowing down. The 66-year-old is one of the oldest coaches in college football, though he seems to have the stamina and charisma of a coach half his age. So, for the rest of the SEC and college football world, it looks like Saban and his legacy aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.


But do national titles alone dictate that Saban is the greatest coach of all time? After all, several coaches that have won only one less national title than Saban, and Saban is only tied with Bear Bryant. So, can we say that Saban is better than the rest?


Well, that’s simple really. Unlike his predecessor, Saban doesn’t have to share the bulk of his titles with other programs. The thing about college football is that there hasn’t always been one determined winner.


Since 1869 (yes, the national title goes that far back), many seasons saw not just one but sometimes two, three, four and even more national champions in one season. Champions were selected based on several different polls from individual organizations that voted on which teams they thought were the best team at the end of the season.


Football, however, has easily evolved over the last century and a half since the first national title — the game itself hasn’t just evolved, but the amount of games in a season, conferences, polls and playoffs — all of it has had a huge impact on the sport.


As much success as Bryant had during his tenure at Alabama, only one of his six titles were won outright. His other five titles are shared with other programs and coaches. So can we really say that his teams were the “best” those years? That’s not to take away from what Bryant did, it just means that there’s much more controversy surrounding which teams exactly warranted the title of national champion in those seasons.


On top of all of this, it’s arguable that this current generation of football players is the greatest to ever play the game. That’s not a cocky boast with the rise in football’s popularity in the country over the past couple of decades, the immense growth it has seen, recruiting process, sports science, advancement in technology and facility production. It’s hard to argue against it being far more difficult to win now than a few decades ago.


Not only has Saban solidified himself as the greatest coach in the modern generation (having more national titles than all current coaches combined), but he has managed to accomplish the same feats as historical greats during the toughest era of football played yet.


If national titles aren’t enough to convince you that Saban deserves to be recognized as the greatest the game has known, just look at the success of those who coached under him. This year, Saban won his latest national title against one of his former assistants, Kirby Smart. Another one of his former assistants, Jimbo Fisher, led Florida State to a national title in 2013. And with the latest hire of Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee, there will be four head coaches in the SEC that were once assistants under Saban.


The debate of Saban being the greatest ever continues to heat up while he’s still going strong. Who knows what more accomplishments are in store for the coach of the Crimson Tide.

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