Crimson Tide Top 5: Football Head Coaches

Throughout the month of June, BamaCentral writers will pick the best five players in each Alabama sport, and for each position group in football.
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We've picked all the sports, and all of the major position groups in football. 

As we begin to wind down the Crimson Tide Top 5 project, selecting the best of the best in Alabama athletics history, there's one final category that needs to be ranked before getting to the final selections overall.

Ironically, it might be the easiest to execute, football head coaches. 

There have been five Crimson Tide coaches who have won national championships.

Each has a statue standing in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium. 

5] Frank Thomas  

When Wallace Wade turned in his resignation at the end of the 1929 season, he suggested that former Georgia assistant coach Frank Thomas replace him. 

It took only one season for Thomas to show why. Even though 10 of the 11 starters from Wade’s final title team were gone the Crimson Tide averaged 36 points a game and went 9-1 record. It remains the best coaching debut in Alabama history.

Under Thomas’ direction, the Tide won the first Southeastern Conference championship in 1933, and national titles in 1934 and 1941. It was during the undefeated 1934 season, when Alabama outscored the opposition 316-45, that Tennessee coach General Robert Neyland made his famous comment: “You never know what a football player is made of until he plays against Alabama.”

With standouts like “Dixie” Howell, Don Hutson, Bill Lee, and a young end named Paul W. “Bear” Bryant, the Crimson Tide returned to the Rose Bowl, where it dominated Stanford, 29-13.

Alabama returned at the end of the 1937 season to suffer its only loss in the Rose Bowl, 13-0 to California.

Despite having two losses in 1941, the Tide made its first postseason appearance other than the Rose Bowl, and created 12 interceptions to defeat Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, 29-21. Although Minnesota was the consensus No. 1, Alabama was able to claim a share of the title. 

After having to scrap the 1943 season due to World War II, Thomas pieced together the famous “War Baby Tiders,” and in 1945 Alabama went undefeated, including a dominating 34-14 victory against Southern California in the Rose Bowl that prompted Trojans coach Jeff Cravath to say: “There goes a great man. I’ll never forget what he did today. If he wanted, he could have named the score.”

The Crimson Tide outscored the opposition 430-80. However, it only resulted in a No. 2 ranking behind Army.

Thomas stepped aside after the 1946 season with a record of 115-24-7. 

4] Gene Stallings

When Alabama went an impressive 11-1 and No. 5 final ranking, it was the program's best finish since Stallings' mentor Paul W. "Bear" Bryant was still the Crimson Tide's head coach. 

But it was only a stepping stone to the magical 1992 season, when Alabama ran the table, won the SEC Championship Game in dramatic fashion, and crushed No. 1 Miami in the Sugar Bowl, 34-13, to win the national title.

For the season, Alabama outscored its opponents 366-122, prompting defensive coordinator Bill Oliver to say: “I wish Coach Bryant were here to see this defense play.”

With Stallings at the helm, Alabama enjoyed a 28-game winning streak. The Crimson Tide went 13-0 after being ranked No. 9 in the preseason Associated Press Poll. In addition to 1991, the 1994 team also finished No. 5. 

When he was hired, Stallings mentioned winning 70 games as a goal, and the players had a chance to give it to him his final season in 1996. Although it didn’t happen in the SEC Championship Game (Florida again, 45-30), they came through at the Outback Bowl against Michigan, 17-14.

“It was real emotional,” Stallings said after the coaching staff presented him with the game ball. “I can’t think of a more fitting game.”

3] Wallace Wade 

The former cavalry captain during World War I put Southern football on the map and won its first national championships.

The run began in 1924, when Alabama went 8-1 and captured its first conference title. The Crimson Tide won its first three games by a combined score of 130-0, and didn’t yield a point until its seventh game, a 42-7 victory against visiting Kentucky. A week later, a 17-0 loss to Centre College prevented perfection, but a dominating 33-0 Thanksgiving victory against Georgia clinched the Southern Conference championship.

Not only did the Tide defend its title in 1925, but after outscoring nine regular-season opponents 277-7, it received an invitation to play Washington in the prestigious Rose Bowl. Although Alabama was considered a heavy underdog, it pulled out a 20-19 victory that had long-reaching effects, and gave the region a dose of much-needed pride.

With the national championship in tow, Alabama continued its winning ways in 1926, which included a third straight Southern Conference title, and returned to the Rose Bowl. Although the Crimson Tide didn’t win, the 7-7 tie against Stanford answered any questions about whether the previous year had been a fluke, and again Alabama could claim at least a share of the national title.

Wade had one more title run in 1930, even though he had already turned in his resignation. It was arguably his best team yet, and the only points Alabama yielded that season were seven to Vanderbilt and six to Tennessee, while the Crimson Tide scored 271.

A season-ending 13-0 victory against Georgia meant both a perfect record and fourth Southern Conference championship, resulting in another invitation to the Rose Bowl to play Washington State. This time the game wasn’t close, and after winning his third national championship, the coach was carried off the field by his players.

Wade compiled a 61-13-3 record at Alabama.

1B] Paul W. 'Bear' Bryant

The name is synonymous with college football. 

For decades, Bryant was widely regarded the game’s greatest coach, and he's still on top in terms of iconic stature. 

He compiled an amazing record of 323-85-17, led teams to 29 bowl appearances, 15 conference championships and won six national championships (1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978, 1979). In the 1960s and 1970s, no school won more games than the Crimson Tide (193-32-5), and the national coach of the year award is named in his honor.

Even though Bryant died January 26, 1983 at the age of 69, hardly a day goes by that most Crimson Tide fans don’t mention his name at least once, and half of Tuscaloosa is seemingly named in his honor.

“I ain’t never been nothing but a winner,” he famously said. 

Bryant was head coach at Maryland for one year (1945), Kentucky eight years (1946-53), Texas A&M four years (1954-57), and Alabama 25 years (1958-82). His record at each school: Maryland 6-2-1, Kentucky 60-23-5, Texas A&M 25-14-2, and Alabama 232-46-9. 

He was building the Aggies into a national power when "Mama called" in 1958. "And when Momma calls, you just have to come runnin'" he said about his decision to return to Tuscaloosa.  

His Alabama teams played in a bowl 24 straight years. When Alabama beat Auburn 28-17 on Nov. 28, 1981, it was his 315th win. That topped Amos Alonzo Stagg's 314 wins and Bryant was saluted as the all-time winningest coach in college football. 

1] Nick Saban 

With his sixth national title at Alabama, and seventh overall, Saban hasn't just secured greatest of all time status in college football, he's pulling away from the field.

Consequently, BamaCentral started the GOAT Watch: The Nick Saban Legacy Tracker, because even at age 69, he's still raising the bar in terms of coaching excellence. 

The Crimson Tide Top 5 will appear every day during the month of June on BamaCentral.

Crimson Tide Top 5: Introduction

Linebackers

Softball

Tight Ends

Women's Basketball

Specialists

Women's Golf

Offensive Line

Men's Golf

Quarterbacks

Baseball

Defensive Linemen

Women's Tennis

Men's Swimming

Wide Receivers

Women's Swimming

Nick Saban Assistant Coaches

Men's Track and Field, Cross Country

Running Backs

Women's Track and Field, Cross Country

Men's Tennis

Coaches

Soccer

Men's Basketball

Gymnastics

Defensive Backs

Volleyball

Football Assistant Coaches

All-Time Football Players