SEC Outsider: What in Alabama's wonderful world is wrong with Nick Saban?

Who in history has succeeded more, and had less fun, than Nick Saban?

Napoleon, maybe?

It's also possible Alexander the Great never asked anyone to "pull my finger."

I keep thinking Saban can’t keep this high-intensity, conquering act up much longer, that his run of unprecedented dominance may have only six, or seven, years left.

This won’t be the mistaken jumped-conclusion from last year, when some of the brightest bulbs in my business declared Alabama’s dynasty over after the Crimson Tide was defeated at home by Mississippi.

Alabama rebounded to win its fourth national title, since 2008, under King Nick.

For what it’s worth, two years after losing in Oxford, the Crimson Tide returns to Ole Miss and is only favored by... 10!

There is really nothing wrong with Alabama football unless you listen to Nitpicker Nick.

The more he wins the less he seems to enjoy it, to the point his words are now stretching the bounds of credulity.

His reign has become emotionless, colorless and odorless. He won a national title at the Rose Bowl once but didn’t even stop to smell the roses.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

That’s fine for guys like his mentor, New England Coach Bill Belichick, a calculated, stuffed sweatshirt working in a heartless, payday business.

That should not be the case in college football.

I imagined the other day what would have happened last January had Clemson, not Alabama, won a thrilling victory in the national title game.

I concluded Dabo Swinney would have run around the field like Jim Valvano after North Carolina State won the NCAA title.

God, forbid, Saban should act like that.

The only thing good about winning, for him, is that it’s not losing. And that's usually what drives the great ones to retirement--certainly what drove Darrell Royal to it.

Saban's career arc, however brilliant, is also troubling.

In January of 2013, as President of the Football Writers Assn. of America, I had to present Saban with our championship trophy the morning after his team clobbered Notre Dame in South Florida.

I had sprained my left foot so badly on a hotel workout machine I could barely dress myself and hobbled to the stage just in time to hand Saban the Grantland Rice Trophy.

I was in excruciating pain, yet somehow produced a toothier grin than Saban's in the "team photo," which I included in this story as proof (that's me on the left next to Alabama AD Mal Moore who, sadly, would pass away only a few months later). I might as well have been handing Saban a half-off coupon for a Tuscaloosa car wash. He was already in mini-crisis, thinking about the 2013 season.

saban-dufresne

It doesn’t have to be this way. Pete Carroll had a childish charm as he led USC to a 97-19 record and two national titles (and one play from a third). Steve Spurrier and Jimbo Fisher certainly knew how to celebrate championships.

Urban Meyer used to be like Saban and got his intestines so wound in a bunch he had to step away from the game and reassess his purpose in life. He returned with a much more balanced approach at Ohio State.

Saban seems to be getting more intense, not less.

Alabama is 2-0 this year after crushing USC and Western Kentucky by the combined score of 90-16.

After beating USC, 52-6, Saban said, “if you want to know the truth about it, I wasn’t pleased with the way we played.”

Based on that measurement, USC Coach Clay Helton could have easily said, “We’re disbanding the program and selling our equipment and trophies next Thursday at a rummage sale.”

Last week, during a 38-10 win over WKU, Saban lashed out at assistant Lane Kiffin, over the offensive’s lack of efficiency (12 penalties, five false starts).

And here all this time we thought Kiffin was the immature one.

After the game Saban said, “I don’t know that I’ve ever been this disappointed after winning a game, maybe ever.”

Give us a break.

If Saban can’t stand 28-point wins this much, perhaps he needs to go back to the NFL to remember how tough winning really was. Maybe that’s what is eating at Saban. He knows, no matter how many titles he wins in Tuscaloosa, that he failed in the NFL.

This is the kind of stuff that haunts perfectionists. It’s what drove Carroll back to the NFL, where he ultimately added “Super Bowl champion” to his resume.

This is Saban’s 10th season at Alabama and you wonder: how long can he go on winning like this?

We’d call what he’s doing in Tuscaloosa “The Joyless Luck Club,” except there’s nothing lucky about it.

It’s just sort of sad that a man, in the middle of something so magnificent, can’t seem to enjoy it.

Grits and Bits

The 2017 SEC schedule came out Tuesday which mean every grown man over 30 in the South called in sick after lunch.

Notables: Alabama plays Florida State, Fresno State, Colorado State and Mercer. That’s a solid lineup even if three games at home and the other is in “neutral-site” Atlanta. And that means Alabama still hasn’t played a true non-conference road game since at Penn State in 2011.

The most exciting news is Florida overcoming agoraphobia and leaving the state for a nonconference game for the first time since 1991! The Gators open against Michigan (in Arlington) and also play Florida State in nonconference. No more jokes about Florida—that’s a killer schedule.

Georgia plays at Notre Dame; Texas A&M opens at UCLA but then plays dangerous Nicholls (ask Georgia).

Mississippi is playing at Cal and also hosting South Alabama a year after Mississippi State hosted USA. What could go wrong there?

Missouri’s nonconference schedule should be sent back to headquarters: Missouri State, Purdue, Idaho, UConn.

For a conference that only plays eight league games, though, the SEC is definitely picking up the pace.

Top heavy: Is the SEC’s power grip slipping? The conference of football champions has only one team, No.1 Alabama, ranked in the top 14 of this week’s AP poll. The key to SEC dominance in recent years is having interchanging teams in the top 10 that don’t get hurt much with interleague losses. It appears, so far, that Alabama is the league’s only dominant team. The SEC has seven teams positioned between 15 and 24, though, and No. 19 Ole Miss can make a huge leap with a home win over Alabama this week.

Playing like Dawgs: First-year Georgia Coach Kirby Smart is a very shaky 2-0 after last week’s horrific two-point win over Nicholls State. Remember, Georgia fired Marc Richt, a guy who averaged 10 wins a year, to get Smart. Chip Towers of DawgNation called the effort versus Nicholls “the worst performance in school history against an FCS opponent.” Georgia dropped seven spots to No. 16 in the AP and plays this week at Missouri. FYI: two years ago, Georgia got whipped, 34-0, in Columbia.[/membership]

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