Tonight, when #1 Notre Dame plays #2 Alabama for the BCS National Championship at Miami's Sun Life Stadium, Alabama head coach Nick Saban will be on familiar turf: He called the field home during the 2005 and 2006 NFL seasons, when he was head coach of the Miami Dolphins. His presence in the title game makes him a serious candidate for Greatest College Football Coach of All Time. In the past decade, which includes his two years with the Dolphins, he has won three college national championships. In 2010, he joined Pop Warner as the only head coach to win a national championship for two different schools. Including bowl games, Saban’s record at Alabama is 67-13, and overall as a college head coach, he is 158-55-1.
In his two seasons with the Dolphins, however, as he struggled to adjust to the pro game (or, at least, struggled to revive a franchise that had gone 4-12 the previous season), Saban went 15-17, including his only losing season as a head coach at any level. And nothing in his tenure became him like the leaving it. Near the end of the 2006 season, with rumors swirling, Saban told reporters, “I guess I have to say it. I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.” Fewer than two weeks later, he was the Alabama coach. Many called him a liar and a traitor; a few noted, more forgivingly, that it would have been inappropriate for Saban to announce he was leaving before the Dolphins’ season ended. But the most revealing aspect of Saban’s exit, which gets to the heart of what has made him the most efficient and accomplished coach of the BCS era, is that it was clearly the correct one. Simply put, Saban is better at coaching college kids than professional adults.