I hate Nick Saban.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a terrific coach and I’m genuinely thankful for the things he accomplished at LSU. They don’t take down championship flags because your head coach was a jackass. In fact, it’s Saban’s greatness that makes him so eminently hateable. No one wastes energy hating the head coach of Kentucky.
I don’t hate him because he left LSU to scratch that NFL itch. When he was at LSU, it was always pretty apparent he treated LSU as a stepping stone, which is why his name kept popping up for every job opening every offseason. Eventually, he took the plunge. And, hey, godspeed. Anyone who hates a coach for going to a better job is tilting at windmills. Let him go.
No, I hate Nick Saban for one simple reason: he is bad for college football.
When we think of a College Football Coach in the sense of the Platonic ideal, we think of the obsessive, screaming dictator. Football coaches aren’t just supposed to yell and scream, they are supposed to bully and harass, while we call that “teaching” or “leadership”. We don’t shy away from their abusive behavior. No, in fact, we praise them for it. Because that’s what college coaches are supposed to do.
A few years ago, I looked at whether “Dictators” won more than other coaches and it turned out that everyone wins pretty much the same, regardless of style. The CEO-type, innovators, nice guys, and dictators all win at pretty much the same rate. However, we tend to think of the Dictators as “better” coaches.
They do it not because it works, because there are plenty of ways to skin a cat, but because we let them act that way. Not only do we let them, we praise them for their bullying tactics. And not just Saban, we line up to praise Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp, or guys like Bobby Knight in basketball. Because coaches are supposed to belittle and humiliate. That’s the job description, right?
Every time a Dictator coach wins, it reinforces that behavior. ESPN lines up to praise him for his “leadership” and maybe he scores a book deal to talk about his principles of teaching. And it’s all a load of crap. You could get the same results without being a raging asshole.
The Nick Sabans of the world want to suck all of the joy out of the game. They want to turn it into a repetitive battle of mindless automatons perfectly executing their genius gameplans. They want to suck everything great about the game out of the game, and then they want us to line up and tell them how wonderful they are. Hell, Saban has even trained the Alabama media to act like they work for him.
And I get it. Winning is awesome. It sure beats losing. Maybe this is the year that Alabama finally catches LSU in number of SEC titles since the Bear retired.* Alabama wandered in the wilderness for a bit, and they would do anything to get back to their winning ways. Hell, LSU did the same thing.
*Actually, it won’t be unless the SEC figures out a way to give them two titles, which I wouldn’t put past the SEC conference offices. LSU is up 6-4 in post-Bear SEC titles.
While it’s great for Alabama, it is bad for everyone else. I will always root against Dictator coaches because they are an anathema to the concept of fair play. As long as we enable these kind of coaches, they will continue to exist and thrive. Especially as we shower them with praise. It was a good for football that Mark Richt won last weekend and it’ll be good for football if Les Miles wins this weekend. Neither man is a saint, but they don’t seem like Woody Hayes clones either.
Casey Stengel was wrong. Or I hope he was.