Only one coach has defeated Nick Saban more than once with the national championship at stake, Dabo Swinney.
Alabama fans can’t seem to decide if that’s fitting, or ironic (or both).
Not only is Swinney from Pelham, Alabama, but he played for the Crimson Tide, initially as a walk-on wide receiver in 1989. He was part of the 1992 national championship team under Gene Stallings.
Over three seasons he caught 7 passes for 81 yards, but was twice named an Academic All-SEC. Swinney also began his coaching career at Alabama, as a graduate assistant.
In 2003, he ended up at Clemson, working for his former position coach at Alabama, Tommy Bowden as the Tigers’ wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator.
When Bowden resigned six games into the 2008 season (which began with a 34-10 loss to Alabama in Atlanta), Swinney was named the interim head coach.
At first he wasn’t considered a popular hire among the Clemson faithful. Needless to say, that changed.
Nick Saban vs. Dabo Swinney
(Statistics through 2018 season)
Category Saban; Swinney
Seasons 23 ; 11
Consensus national titles 6 ; 2
Top five finishes 9 ; 4
Top 25 finishes 16 ; 9
Overall record 232–62–1; 116-30
Percentage 78.5 ; 79.5
Losing seasons 0 ; 1
CFP/Bowl record 14-10 ; 9-5
Percentage 58.3 ; 64.2
Conference titles 9 ; 5
Conference record 138-42-1; 68-16
Consensus All-Americans 41 ; 10
First-round draft picks 34 ; 11
Record against ranked teams 82-40 ; 27-18
Percentage 67.20 ; 60.0
Record against top 10 teams 42-21 ; 14-6
Percentage 66.67 ; 70.0
National title seasons One every 3.8 seasons; 5.5
Consensus All-Americans 1.78 every season; .91
First-round draft picks 1.48 every season; 1.0
Average wins vs. ranked teams 3.57 each season; 2.45
Wins over top-10 teams per year 1.82 every season; 1.27
Bonus: Walter Camp
It would be impossible to do series about all-time great college football coaches and not mention Camp, perhaps the game’s greatest innovator. He played at Yale from 1877-82 and was the program’s first official football coach, compiling a 68-2 record from 1888-92.
Three of his undefeated teams (1888, 1891 and 1892) are essentially considered undisputed national champions.
Among his many notable achievements was to standardize the game’s rules, thus becoming known as the “Father of American Football.”
He created the line of scrimmage, the 11-man team, signal-calling, the quarterback position, and was the originator of the rule whereby a team had to give up the ball unless it had advanced a specified distance within a set number of downs. Camp also coached three seasons at Stanford, then an independent, where he had a 12-3-3 record.