Sam Burnham, Curator
I had originally thought of putting this post in the ABG CFB blog but I think it belongs here.
There is a lot of discussion today about Alabama coach Nick Saban pulling even with Bear Bryant after last night's victory in an otherwise excellent National Championship Game. After some thought and a couple of discussions, here is my take on this as a Southerner.
With six national titles at two different schools, you cannot deny that Nick Saban has set a high bar for coaching going forward. His use of a true freshman QB from Hawaii shows the reach pf his recruiting. His success in the perennial powerhouse Southeastern Conference is proof of his tenacity and strategic genius. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the greatest wins and losses coach in the nation today. He is in his own league.
And there will be nothing in this post negative about Nick Saban. But I remain adamant that this is an apples and oranges comparison. And here is why.
Bear Bryant was an excellent football coach. But his legend in Alabama goes well beyond what happened on the field. Bear Bryant coached at Alabama through the 60s and 70s, some of the greatest times of upheaval and discord in the history of our nation - and Alabama was often Ground Zero. We live in times when bad press for Alabama involves a kooky guy with a questionable past runs for the senate. Bear Bryant coached in a time when negative press involved lynchings, church bombings, peaceful protest being violently terminated, and the forced desegregation of schools, including the University of Alabama.
Through all these times the people of Alabama had one thing in the national press they could be proud of. A man in a hounds tooth hat was leading their state's team all over the nation and handing out butt whippings. It was one thing they could point to with pride. And this man had piles of stories about picking cotton with the families of kids he recruited, eating chitlins and greens in cinder block restaurants in South Alabama, and a thousand other tales that let Alabama folks know that "The Bear" was one of them. Even my grandfather, who grew up in Mississippi before setting 30 minutes from Florida Field, had a hounds tooth hat hanging in the den. He wasn't particularly fond of Alabama but he loved Bear Bryant.
And Bear Bryant built the Alabama brand. There was football in Tuscaloosa before the Bear, but let's admit it, it wasn't what it was when he left. The success the team had under Gene Stallings was due to Bear's tutelage of his assistant but also the brand that he built. And that is the brand Saban started with and built upon. Saban has build a big house on Bear's foundation.
And so, if you ask me if Bryant or Saban is greater, I'm liable to answer "yes" or maybe "no." Take each man and ask yourself if he could win in the other's time period. Is that a fair comparison for either of them? Could Bear win in 2018? Could Saban win in 1968? The times are different, the nation is different, the state is different, the school is different.
Alabama Football has two legends now. I don't think either should overshadow the other. Looking at the whole picture, I think they each show the greatness of the other.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire