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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Saban's grip on SEC doesn't seem to loosen

by Wally Hall | August 18, 2021 at 2:31 a.m.

So it is now written, there are three things we know will happen in our life: death, too many taxes and Alabama ranked No. 1 in football.

How does a man from Fairmont, W.Va. -- the county seat of Marion County with a population of just over 18,000 -- become the most feared man in all of college football?

That's Nicholas Lou Saban, winner of seven national championships including one at LSU, a job his agent talked him into taking because Saban didn't want to leave Michigan State.

Although he played defensive back at Kent State, his claim to fame -- besides out-kicking his coverage when he married Terry Constable while a junior in college -- was that he and his roommate were going to a rally when they stopped for lunch first.

That rally became known as the Kent State massacre when members of the Ohio National Guard killed four protesters and wounded nine.

Maybe Saban always has been blessed.

While this scribe is thankful he doesn't have to cover the coach many have nicknamed "Satan" -- perhaps because he was born on Halloween or perhaps because he's tougher to cover than a 20-pound bowling ball going 20 mph -- his accomplishments as a football coach are respected.

It has become an over-used term, but he's the G.O.A.T.

He also paid his dues. He was an assistant coach for 17 years and didn't become a head coach until he took the Toledo job in 1990, went 9-2 and turned down a chance to interview Urban Meyer for an assistant job. He eventually became the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns.

Four years later, he was the head coach at Michigan State, where he was 34-24-1. In his last season, he was 9-2 and LSU became interested after firing Gerry DiNardo.

Saban was about to say no when his agent Jimmy Sexton asked him to visit the campus and see how big football was in the South.

Saban visited, said yes and promised he had found a home for life.

Five years and one national championship later, he was on his way to the Miami Dolphins. He struggled there, and when the general manager refused to let him sign Drew Brees as his quarterback, Saban's days were numbered.

It was in the SEC where Saban found his stride.

He was 48-16 with the Tigers.

He's 165-23 with Alabama entering his 15th season.

He has not lost more than two games in a season since the Crimson Tide went 10-3 in 2010. In the decade since then, Saban is 127-12.

There is no bigger name in Alabama than Nick Saban's, and no bigger man in college football.

Every coach in America worth his whistle should want to beat him.

When Bret Bielema came to Arkansas, he said he left Wisconsin because he wanted to beat Alabama.

Some thought that was crazy talk, and it turned out it was, but no one would have liked it if Bielema said he came to the SEC to lose to Alabama.

The last of Saban's two losses to the Razorbacks was in 2002 in what became known as the "Miracle on Markham" game. Arkansas trailed 17-7 in the fourth quarter, but Fred Talley broke a 56-yard touchdown run that LSU answered with a field goal.

Matt Jones had the final response when he passed for 31 yards to DeCori Birmingham with nine seconds left for a touchdown. The Hogs were penalized for excessive celebration, but David Carlton hit the 35-yard extra point for the 21-20 win.

Arkansas is on its fifth full-season head coach since then, and not one has beaten Saban and Alabama.

Truth is they are not in elite company.

Alabama doesn't lose often, and that's why the Tide seem to be the perennial No. 1 team in college football.

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