August 31, 2012

Is Nick Saban the Greatest Recruiter Ever?

By - Keith Smith

For those that know me, you will understand why this may be the most difficult column I will ever write.

As a die-hard Auburn and UAB fan, and probably an even more prolific hater of the University of Alabama, it pains me to say this, but Nick Saban may very well be the greatest college football recruiter to ever live.

Photo by: Kevin C. Cox
Blecht! I think I just threw up in my mouth a little. It certainly leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I've said for the past 10 years that Saban -- the owner of three National Championships (one at LSU and two at Alabama), wins most of his games in the living room, not on the field. Don't get me wrong, I don't think he is a bad in-game coach, but his skills in that department pale in comparison to the magic he works in living rooms the 18-months prior to game day.

You don't have to look far to see the level of talent that he has successfully recruited and moved to the NFL from his time at Michigan State (7), to LSU (37), and now to Alabama (20+ and counting). His recruiting has been so successful at Alabama that it was the subject of a Wall Street Journal article earlier this week. Yes, they have a sports section in the Wall Street Journal, but with the inroads Saban has made at Alabama, it could just as easily have been in the "Money" section of the paper -- because you can bank on his success with recruits.

People scoffed at Saban's outrageous $4 million salary when Alabama hired him (and I was at the front of the scoffing line). But the sad truth is, he may be underpaid.

Saban isn't perfect. I wouldn't put him in the top 5 in-game coaches out there right now. That's why he failed so miserably in the NFL. His teams don't make great adjustments during a game, and he can stick with a game plan too long when it isn't working before abandoning it in favor of something else (my guess is that his ego won't allow him to). I've personally seen him out coached during a game at least 4 times in the past 4 years.

The funny thing is, he hasn't lost all of those games because of the talent pool he has.

Saban excels in two areas -- game planning and recruiting. If he has a long time to prepare (bowl games and opening games of a season), he is usually very successful. And when you figure that those are 2 of the "Big 3" in coaching qualities (and he is at the very top of those two), well, to quote Meat Loaf, Two Out of Three Ain't Bad.

What makes him so good in closing the deal with recruits and recruits' parents? Probably a lot of things, not the least of which is that set of numbers I gave you earlier on how many guys he's put in the NFL. He and his staff also do their homework -- mounds of it, so that they are going after guys that they are pretty sure they can sign before they ever pick up the phone for that first phone call.

In short (no pun intended toward his diminutive stature), he and his staff are prepared better than anyone else in the NCAA. I can't prove this, but I almost think the guy has a few PhDs on staff crunching numbers for him 24-7 to give him all the data he needs on the recruits to be successful. It sure seems like it, anyway.

No, I'm not picking the Crimson Tide to win another National Championship (at least, not this year). The defense is inexperienced and the offense lost a big gun with Trent Richardson. Then again, last year when Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Marcel Dareus, and Greg McElroy left for the NFL, I didn't think they had much chance of winning one either.

With the high-level athletes Saban is recruiting, you just never know.


  1. I hate his guts, but your right. He's the best.

  2. ive always had a hard time calling someone the best EVER at something. saban is the best of this generation though.

  3. Anonymous - I agree, I normally avoid that, too, because comparing generations is next to impossible. The only way to do it is to compare people against their peers, and I only use that best ever tag if they are just so far above their peers. For example, I've always called Babe Ruth the greatest baseball player ever. If you compare him with today's athlete, you would say that he doesn't compare physically. But if you compare his numbers with the other people who played in his day, the guy was putting up better numbers than most TEAMS of that time. Then you look at Barry Bonds, and while he had more homers than Ruth, there were a ton of his roided up peers hitting 50 and 60 homers a year, so he is immediately out of the greatest ever convo. Same applies with Saban. I think he is so much better at recruiting than all his peers, I think he had to be mentioned in that conversation.

  4. Les Miles is real good also. Always finds great talent. Must be a SEC thing.