Miles/Saban: Can the Debate Please Die?

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 05: (L-R) Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide shakes hands with head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers before their game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 5, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

If you haven't heard, Game of the Century of the Year 2: Game Harder, will feature the sixth meeting between LSU's current coach and its former one. I tend to stay away from the whole "my dad can beat up your dad" coaching debate here, and that's because when it comes to the comparison between Les Miles and Nick Saban, portions of the fanbases on either side tend to become rather annoying and immature. Eager to engage in a debate that becomes ridiculously hyperbolic and moronically over-compensatory.

On the LSU side, some are all too desperate to believe that Saban holds no relevance for the current state of the program. On the Bama side, others are all too desperate to believe that he is the only relevance for the current state of the program, in addition to theirs. The ledger currently reads 3-2 in favor of Miles, but people on either side would be wise to remember that these things have a way of evening out. It may not come on January 9, it may not even come next season, but it will eventually. Such is the fate for any rivalry between two great programs led by two great coaches. The worm always, inevitably, turns.

Besides, the truth is, as different as Miles and Saban may be in terms of their personalities, the two are far more alike, and misunderstood than most fans would ever believe:

  • Both coaches know a little something about benefiting from their predecessors' work, and both coaches know a thing or two about improving upon that work.
  • Both coaches are known to be relentlessly detail-oriented in practice and in the film room, and intensely demanding of their assistant coaches' time.
  • Both coaches are gifted and tireless recruiters, capable of relating to today's 17-year-old while still convincing today's mom and dad of which university will be the best place for that 17-year-old to start a life.
  • Both coaches value toughness and hustle in their players balanced with intelligence.
  • Both coaches believe in a program stocked with players that excel in the classroom and stay out of trouble, yet are pragmatic when it comes to handing out discipline.
  • And both coaches believe in dominant defenses buttressed with powerful offenses that control the line of scrimmage and sound kicking games.

In addition to all these things in common, both coaches are also defined by a constant struggle. But it is at this point that their styles diverge. For Miles, the struggle is for balance. Balance between the demands of his job and demands of his wife and five children. Balance between the intricacies of running a $100 million business and the art of coaching and teaching college-aged young men. Balance between imparting passion and emotion, yet still understanding the control and discipline that success in football demands. In the best of times, the result is a team that plays fast, loose and hard for their coach because he believes in them enough to let them take managed risks. In the worst of times, the result is a team that has had its out-of-control moments over the years.

For Saban, the struggle is for control. Control over every single facet of his program, even down to the image he projects on the cover of a media guide and on television. Control over his players, down to the color of shoes they wear and each individual step they make in those shoes. Because he believes that with that control, he can lead his team to an almost impossible point of dominance over their opponents. And in the best of times, the result is a team that looks like a legion of disciplined, ultra-prepared shock troops, equipped for whatever their opponent throws at them. In the worst of times, the result has been a team that occasionally looks flat and ill-equipped for the unexpected changes in strategy or momentum shifts that can happen during games.

People will always have their preferences between the two coaches and their respective styles. Chances are that preference will be shaped by each individual's personality and his fan allegiance (often times whether they will admit this to themselves or not). The each have their strengths and weaknesses, as we've seen the last few years. One will rule the day in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Jan. 9, but the reality is that both styles work, always have, and will continue to do so for both LSU and Alabama.

Don’t forget to show support for your favorite coach by voting him as the 2011 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year at www.coachoftheyear.com

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