Nick Saban was smiling, really smiling. The usually emotions-in-check coach couldn’t help himself. Following Monday night’s College Football Playoff national championship game win over Ohio State, Saban also couldn’t stop praising his team, which had dominated the Buckeyes in a 52-24 victory. There is video evidence he even shed a tear during the postgame trophy presentations and celebration.
The greatest college football coach ever — as his seven national titles (six at Alabama, one at LSU), not to mention Alabama’s dominance on the field and in recruiting during his time as head coach, would attest — was quick to point out the 2020 national championship team just may be his best ever.
There’s plenty of sentiment, and a good bit of evidence could be presented, the 2020 Alabama team may be the greatest college team ever, certainly in the modern era (sorry, 2019 LSU), as more than a few followers of the game have suggested.
“I just love this team so much and what they’ve been able to do. I can’t put it into words,” Saban gushed after the game.
There are plenty of reasons Saban holds the 2020 team so close to his heart, but it would seem one reason stands above the rest — this Alabama team proves, without question, The Process works.
When he arrived in Tuscaloosa in January 2007, Saban was quick to present The Process to the Alabama football vocabulary. Follow The Process, he said, and the victories and championships will follow.
And while racking up six national championships and 165 victories during his time at Alabama, The Process has been at the forefront of establishing the foundation for the program under his direction. In the 2020 team, Saban had a team that bought into The Process wholeheartedly. Other teams fulfilled aspects of The Process; this year’s team followed every condition to the letter.
The result was a national championship, SEC championship, an undefeated season, tons of team and individual awards and navigating one of the most difficult seasons ever based on an all-SEC regular-season schedule and COVID-19 restrictions.
Players who could have entered the NFL Draft a year ago came back with the express aim of chasing a national championship, and they and their teammates bought into the steps required to accomplish that goal. Jaylen Waddle, considered one of the top receivers in the country heading into the season, was injured and DeVonta Smith stepped forward; boy did he ever.
Mac Jones was considered more a “game manager” than a complete quarterback, at least before he started breaking records and showing he could make all the throws with great accuracy and skill while directing a potent offense. Najee Harris hurdled opposing tacklers or simply ran through them, around them and past them. The offensive line, even when leader Landon Dickerson was lost to injury late in the season, showed its strength all season long.
Defensively, there were times, notably against Ole Miss and Florida, where there were some breakdowns, but try telling Notre Dame or Ohio State or many other opponents that Alabama’s defense had issues. When needed, it made stops; at times, it dominated.
Even the kicking game was stellar this year. Placekicker Will Reichard didn’t miss a single extra-point try or field goal attempt this season. The punting game and the return teams were strong as well.
Everything clicked; The Process worked to perfection — 13-0, scoring almost 50 points a game, winning games going away for the most part, almost to the point of being boring. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was a wizard in finding ways to attack opposing defenses and Pete Golding’s defense was stifling when required.
This team had everything — the Heisman Trophy winner as well as players voted the best running back, best quarterback and best offensive line in the country. Alabama had more first-team All-America picks than most schools had all-conference honorable mentions.
Saban can point to this team and note that when The Process is followed great things happen, not only from a team standpoint but from an individual standpoint as well.
And it’s fair to note The Process doesn’t just happen. It’s made possible by Saban himself. Consider this: 11 of his former assistants are now head coaches, the latest being Sarkisian at Texas. He has won six national titles at Alabama with five different offensive coordinators (Jim McElwain, 2009, 2011; Doug Nusmeier, 2012; Lane Kiffin, 2015; Brian Daboll, 2017; and Sarkisian, 2020), and three different defensive coordinators (Kirby Smart, ’09, ’11, ’12, ’15; Jeremy Pruitt, ’17; and Pete Golding, ’20). Five of those coordinators are now head coaches.
Just as impressive, Saban joined a program where streets, buildings and even a museum are named for former head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, and he has carved out his own name, his own identity and his own legacy — another reason many now consider him the greatest coach ever.
Ohio State was no match for Alabama or Saban, certainly not The Process.
This championship sets the 2020 team and Saban apart from all the others, in Alabama history and college football history. This team was just that, a team, and despite the many individual awards that were won by Alabama players this season, it was their commitment to team, their next-man-up mentality, that separated them from their opponents and from historical comparisons to other teams.
That was evident Monday night when the team sent Dickerson out as the team captain for the coin toss, then celebrated when he went out on the field for the final two plays just to be on the field when the team won the championship. Dickerson then ran straight for his head coach, lifting him off the ground and carrying him across the field.
It was evident when a limping Waddle expressed his desire to play and contributed to Monday’s victory and when Jones, also limping, refused to head to the sideline until he was called there by Saban in the final minutes so he could receive an ovation from the fans and his teammates.
Nick Saban was smiling. Big time. And it’s a good guess he’ll be smiling a while longer, breaking his own 24-hour rule for celebrating a victory. This win, this season, was one for the ages.
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