Nick Saban's Four-of-a-Kind Wins over Former Assistants Didn't Get Attention it Deserved

All Things CW looks at Alabama's four-straight wins against former Nick Saban assistant coaches, the task of navigating the 2020 season and Derrick Henry's interesting ad campaign with Ole Spice
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Jimbo Fisher, Lane Kiffin, Kirby Smart, Jeremy Pruitt. 

One has won a national championship.

One has won an SEC championship and taken his team to the national title game.

One spent three years as Alabama's offensive coordinator, where he not only faced the Crimson Tide defense during every practice, and was able to test what worked and didn't, but learned all the adjustments and counter moves.

One followed in the footsteps of of the defensive coordinator he eventually replaced, and helped recruit some of the older players on the Crimson Tide.

Not only was Alabama facing four former Nick Saban assistant coaches in a row unprecedented, it was one of the most impressive achievements we'll ever see in college football coaching. 

You probably couldn't find four head coaches on the planet who know the ins and outs of Nick Saban teams better. 

"We all have the same father,” Kiffin said about a group text he has with the other former Saban assistants, which means that they've been sharing information on some level. 

Yet they still went winless.

Saban's 23-0 record against former assistants is both incredible and unmatched in history, but this four-game stretch was at another level. 

Yes, Alabama was favored in all four games, but it was still four SEC teams, two of which were highly ranked.

Moreover, it's four straight weeks. 

One of the toughest things to do in college football is to face three straight ranked opponents on subsequent weekends as a lot of teams will be able the handle two when it all catches up to them. 

The 2012 season was a good example. Alabama handled Ni. 13 Mississippi State no problem, 38-7, and then won a squeaker at No. 5 LSU, 31-17. 

The next week, though, a tired Crimson Tide team got knocked off at home by Texas A&M, 29-24.

Another example was 2010. Alabama won at No. 10 Arkansas, 24-20, and at home against No. 7 Florida, 31-6. It then ran into an ambush at No. 19 South Carolina. 

This was comparable on many levels. 

The string started with a 52-24 win over No. 13 Texas A&M, which is now looking very strong in second in the SEC West and has a favorable schedule. The Aggies are up to No. 8 in the latest rankings. 

That was followed by the 63-48 win over Kiffin at Ole Miss, which was sandwiched with No. 3 Georgia on the other side. 

Again the Crimson Tide took care of business, 41-24, even though Saban had the huge distraction of dealing with a false-positive coronavirus test that kept him away from the team for most of the week. 

Still riding high, Alabama avoided the potential letdown at Tennessee, 48-17. 

The ambush, of you will, was Ole Miss. Kiffin, who didn't coach Alabama during the 2016 national championship after taking the Florida Atlantic job, still had his practice notes and put together a really strong game plan. It was obviously better than the ones the Rebels had against Arkansas or Auburn, two subsequent losses. 

In 2009, it was the game against Kiffin, during his first year at Tennessee, that served as both the wake-up call and "survive and move on" moment for the Crimson Tide, as Rocky Block ended with a 12-10 score. Alabama ended up running the table and winning the national title. 

If history repeats, don't be surprised if the players and coaches point to the Ole Miss game and beating Kiffin again as being the catalyst.

SEC Coaches During Saban Era (2007-)

Arkansas: Houston Nutt (1998-2007), Reggie Herring (interim 2007), Bobby Petrino (2008-11), John L. Smith (2012), Bret Bielema (2013-17), Paul Rhoads (interim 2017), Chad Morris (2017-19), Sam Pittman (2020).

Auburn: Tommy Tuberville (1999-2008), Gene Chizik (2009-12), Gus Malzahn (2013-current).

Florida: Urban Meyer (2005-10), Will Muschamp (2011-14), D.J. Durkin (interim 2014), Jim McElwain (2015-17), Randy Shannon (interim 2017), Dan Mullen 2018-current).

Georgia: Mark Richt (2010-15), Kirby Smart (2016-current).

Kentucky: Rich Brooks (2003-09), Joker Phillips (2010-12), Mark Stoops (2013-current).

LSU: Les Miles (2005-16), Ed Orgeron (2016-current).

Ole Miss: Ed Orgeron (2005-07), Houston Nutt (2008-11), Hugh Freeze (2012-16), Matt Luke (2017-19), Lane Kiffin (2020).

Mississippi State: Sylvester Croom (2004-08), Dan Mullen (2009-17), Greg Knox (interim 2017), Joe Moorehead (2017-18).

Missouri: Gary Pinkel (2001-15), Barry Odom (2016-19), Eliah Drinkwitz (2020).

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier (2005-15), Shawn Elliott (interim 2015), Will Muschamp (2016-current).

Tennessee: Phillip Fulmer (1992-2008), Lane Kiffin (2009), Derek Dooley (2010-12), Jim Chaney (interim 2012), Butch Jones (2013-17), Brady Hoke (2017), Jeremy Pruitt (2018-current).

Texas A&M: Kevin Sumlin (2012-17), Jeff Banks (interim 2017), Jimbo Fisher (2018-current).

Vanderbilt: Bobby Johnson (2002-09), Robbie Caldwell (2010), James Franklin (2011-13), Derek Mason (2014-current). 

Eye on the finish line

There was some unnecessary drama last week regarding Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle's injury at Tennessee, with some unnecessarily wondering why he was returning kicks (simple, he's the best returner in the nation), and also regarding Saban's comments on TV heading to halftime. 

"He's out," Saban said. "He's out. He's out for the year.

"It's a shame because he's such a great player, it's exciting for college football to see a player play like that. I hate it, when he gets hurt on a play like that. You know, you're not supposed to bring the ball out when you're that deep in the end zone, but he's a great player so, you have to let him use his judgement."

Those who thought Saban was coming across as insensitive both don't get him, his immediate surroundings, or what's at stake. Like usual, the coach had an eye on the finish line. 

Here's one of his comments on Monday, when Saban wasn't in the middle of one of the biggest rivalry games in sports: 

"You can’t replace a guy like Jaylen Waddle in terms of what his ability is," he said. "It’s no different than losing Allen Iverson, a guy that scores 30-40 points a game. He’s that kind of impact player."

Alabama stayed focussed and dominated Tennessee, with Waddle getting a cigar from teammates in the ambulance before heading off to a Birmingham hospital for surgery. All indications are that he can make a full recovery. 

Go back to when Saban was coaching the Miami Dolphins and was repeatedly being asked about the Alabama job while his season was still ongoing. He later got ripped when leaving for the Crimson Tide, but at that point he hadn't even talked to Mal Moore yet.

The situations are similar in one respect in that Saban always has his eyes on the finish line, and feels its crucial for his players to do so as well.

This season, it's absolutely crucial. 

The coronavirus could take out a team at any time. 

You have situations like Florida, which hasn't played since Oct. 10, and Wisconsin, where the No. 9 Badgers know their season is probable toast after head coach Paul Chryst and quarterback Graham Mertz both testeded positive and now have to sit for 21 days per Big Ten protocols. 

Even before the game with Nebraska was canceled, the 37th involving Football Bowl Subdivision teams to be postponed or called off since Aug. 6, the schedules were already out of whack and unfamiliar. 

On top of that you have injuries, which are almost certainly going to get significantly worse with teams playing conference-only schedules following an unfamiliar offseason in terms of training and conditioning. 

In all likelihood, we'll see more situations like LSU, where junior quarterback Myles Brennan will likely not play against Auburn due to a back issue, and the reigning champions continue to unravel before our eyes. 

Midway through the season (give or take, as the Pac-12 hasn't played a game yet) the one certainly is that the teams handling the adversity and unpredictable nature of 2020 the best will have the most success.

Absolutely nobody gets that better than Saban.  

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• Finally, if you're not quite sure what to think about Derrick Henry's Old Spice Sweat Defense campaign, which kicked off with an animated TV commercial of him running through just about all of Los Angeles, Henry doesn't seem to either (video). 

Christopher Walsh's "All Things CW" appears every Thursday on BamaCentral