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Long Live The King

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Nick Saban, Football Overlord

CFP National Championship presented by AT&T - Alabama v Georgia
Saban, wasting valuable film study time, poses for a photo with some trophy
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Paul Finebaum is right, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Monday evening was historic for several reasons: it was the first all-SEC College Football Playoff final, the first major championship played in Atlanta’s shiny new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and officially eradicated the massive shadow of Bear Bryant that Nick Saban has been toiling under at Alabama.

To use the word unprecedented in college football is sometimes unjust, because the landscape and parameters of the sport shift so dynamically. But here’s the most striking number: under Nick Saban, Alabama has won five national titles in nine seasons. Only six other teams can claim five titles over the entire history of the sport.

He’s done it with a calm and methodical precision that has created a sort of inverted mayhem in the rest of the division. The SEC West is a frothy feeding frenzy of coaching turnover in the past decade.

SEC West head coaches since 2007

(*A&M has only been in the conference since 2012 and can only boast one casualty of Saban, but you get the picture)

The fact that LSU somehow has the most coaching stability despite the seemingly constant uncertainty that radiates from Baton Rouge says a lot about the utter chaos that Saban’s success has created. The only West coach who had any sort of established tenure decided to leave of his own accord to coach in the East (Florida and Alabama aren’t scheduled to play until 2021.)

There is no answer to Saban. Schools keep hiring his assistants away, but it isn’t working. Kirby Smart came closer than anyone else last night, and it felt at times like Georgia was going to catch lightning in a bottle. But they didn’t, and Alabama’s second half was a study in patience and a brazen, methodical determination that can only be learned through playing in more championship games than anyone else in the country. The entire performance—overcoming a two-score deficit in the fourth quarter, benching his dynamic QB for a true freshman at the half, the stunning and uncharacteristic winning play in OT—it all seemed to be almost intentionally frivolous, as if he were making it more difficult for himself in order to make it more of a challenge. That is of course absurd, but the break from his usual tendencies gave us a peek at a heretofore unknown depth of flexibility and willingness to push the envelope that may be explored in seasons to come. At the very least, he was made to pull out all the stops in order to beat Georgia, and that means he’ll be rebuilding and honing those stops to ensure they aren’t tested again in 2018.

Nick Saban will stop being the dominant force in college football only when Nick Saban wants to. Until then, the rest of the SEC West is just along for his ride, for better or worse. Hope everyone likes oatmeal cookie crumbs.