Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are the top two college football coaches in the game today, and two of the best ever. But, forced to choose, who would you take right now?
This is almost like the Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James argument, right? Urban Meyer and Nick Saban have had success at each and every stop – outside of Saban’s Miami Dolphins stint in the NFL, which I’m not holding against him because this is a college football argument.
Before Meyer made it into a Power Five league as a head coach, he had a 17-6 mark at Bowling Green and went 22-2 at Utah, including an undefeated 2004 campaign. That success led him to Florida, where he won national titles in 2006 and 2008 while compiling a 65-15 record. I’ll give Meyer the benefit of the doubt that he left Gainesville for health reasons, but I would argue that there were other factors at play. Nonetheless, he took over an Ohio State program and made it a dominant Big Ten outfit. He is 56-4 in Columbus with a national title in 2014, and he has 12 wins in each of his other three seasons with the Buckeyes. His success is unrivaled…
Unless you bring Saban into the equation.
After going 9-2 at Toledo and 34-24-1 at Michigan State, Saban started to really make his mark when he entered the SEC. At LSU, he began to assimilate into the league that has emerged as the nation’s top conference. He compiled a 48-16 mark in Baton Rouge and claimed his first national title in 2003. After a 9-3 season in 2004, Saban decided to test the NFL waters with the Dolphins for two years. The game then changed when Alabama called.
Saban has gone 107-18 in Tuscaloosa, with national titles in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015. He also has four other seasons in which he recorded double-digit wins. It has been an incredible run in the nation’s premiere conference. It’s not to take anything away from what Meyer has done in the Big Ten. That league is improving each and every year, from the coaching to the player talent base. Meyer’s success is second to only Saban.
Think about the reaction – not just in the South, but nationally – when Alabama loses a game. Think about some of the ways the Tide lose. They are close contests, with a lot of them being coin-flip type setbacks.
Meyer has the last head-to-head victory, and here’s hoping we see a lot more matchups between these two architects. While Meyer has age on his side, Saban is running a professional operation in Tuscaloosa, and it’s just hard to go with anyone but him.
I was told by some of my colleagues that Nick Saban is the greatest coach of all-time because no one – not one other coach – could do what Saban has done at Alabama. I see the argument, I really do. Do I believe it? No, I don’t. Alabama was not some awful, horrible program when he arrived in 2007. The Crimson Tide won 10 games two years prior, won a national championship 15 years earlier and had a devoted fan base all sitting in the middle of a recruiting hotbed that just needed a little bit better of a salesman.
Saban was decent while with Michigan State and, outside of his national championship with LSU, had up down years in Baton Rouge.
All of that is why I would take Urban Meyer to run my team given the choice: he’s a better program architect. Bowling Green was his first head coaching job in 2001, and he immediately turned around a program that was at its worst depths into a MAC contender. By 2004, he was winning a Fiesta Bowl to cap off an undefeated season at Utah, well before it was part of a major conference. The Utes were an afterthought before Meyer arrived, and one could argue the university is where it’s at now athletically because of Meyer’s two extremely successful years there.
His success at Florida and currently Ohio State speaks for itself. Like Saban, Meyer has been successful at every stop, only with fewer down years mixed in. That’s the key difference, and why I’d choose Meyer if it came down to those two.
This is like asking if I want either Olive Garden or Applebee’s for dinner, except the complete opposite. These are the two best coaches of the past two decades and you can’t go wrong with either one of them. The detail with which each operates is truly amazing.
In the end, I have to pick one, and it would be Meyer only because of his age. He is 12 years younger than Saban, and is in the best shape of his life after the health scare that made him step down at Florida. Sorry, Saban. You can retire happily at your lake house and hang out with all those trophies.
Obviously, to this point, there hasn’t been a coach better than Nick Saban. But this conversation isn’t about who has been better, it’s about which one you’d rather have right now. Saban turns 65 on Halloween. Urban Meyer turned 52 in July. Yes, Saban has five national titles, but let’s not act like Meyer’s three championships aren’t that special. Saban won his first title when he was 52. So, Meyer is technically way ahead of the game. The guy retired twice*, started a broadcasting career and then crafted a lost Ohio State program into a juggernaut. Just imagine what Meyer could do in the next 13 years.
* Meyer changed his mind the first time, coaching Florida for one last season before his second retirement.
In all reality, Saban has to retire at some point. The dominance can’t last forever. Ohio State is on pace to have the best recruiting class ever in this 2017 cycle. And, believe me, it won’t stop. As long as Meyer is in Columbus, the Buckeyes will continue to reel in blue-chip prospects.
If you’re telling me Meyer, who’s won three national titles with two programs, can’t win another three titles by the time he’s 65, you’re nuts. When Saban does retire, he’ll retire as the greatest head coach of all-time. However, that doesn’t mean he’ll always be the greatest head coach of all-time.
We seem to have sort of a Michael Jordan-Kobe Bryant type dynamic between Saban and Meyer. Everyone wants to act as though no one can ever be better than Saban, but what if Meyer ends up with more national titles?
Say what you will, I’m taking Meyer 365 days out of the year.