All Things CW: It’s Nick Saban’s College Football World and We’re All Just Along for the Ride – Bama Maven

Wednesday was the opening of the early-signing period, with college football programs locking down the majority of top players in the 2022 recruiting classes, and once again Nick Saban has Alabama in the running to finish No. 1. 

That won’t be officially determined for a while yet, as National Signing Day is still a couple of months away and some of the key prospects won’t accepting scholarships until then, but we already know that the Crimson Tide is adding yet another stellar group. 

This is absolutely, positively not surprising on any level. 

Saban’s been able to claim 11 of the last 14 recruiting titles, including seven straight at one point. Just like how he’s been able to set the new standard on the field the coach has done likewise in recruiting. 

It may take a long, long time for anyone else match his success, if ever.  

In terms of accomplishments, no one in college football history compares, and that’s not a knock on anyone else, just the simple truth. From recruiting classes to national championships he has reset all of the standards.  

It’s gotten to the point that we’re almost out of things to follow (but we try anyway with the GOAT tracker on BamaCentral).

For example, with Bryce Young winning the Heisman Trophy last week, Saban tied Frank Leahy for most Heisman winners coached with four (Angelo Bertelli 1943, Johnny Lujack 1947, Leon Hart 1949 and Johnny Lattner 1953). Leahy, though, had a huge advantage of Notre Dame’s prowess during the years surrounding World War II.  

Prior to arriving at Alabama in 2007, Saban never even had a finalist for the award.   

One of the few Paul W. “Bear” Bryant accomplishments that Saban hasn’t matched yet is twice winning back-to-back national championships, but he might check that one off next month. 

Only six coaches have won four or more titles during the poll era, and if you go solely by Associated Press titles the list is down to three: Saban, Bryant and Leahy.   

Perhaps the only record that’s out of reach for Saban is all-time wins. He’s at No. 7 at the Division I level with 268, having surpassed Mack Brown this season, with Frank Beamer up next at 280. 

Joe Paterno finished with 409, which took 46 years and until he was 85. 

If Saban coached until that age he would need to average 9.5 wins per season to top him. 

But Bryant’s 323, which is third, is coming up fast. Saban could top it if he coaches at least five more years.  

Changing SEC Landscape

If you weren’t impressed by what former Alabama assistant coach Billy Napier did at Florida this past week, go back and take a another look because it signaled a big-time change in the SEC landscape. 

Less than two weeks on the job, Napier landed the No. 1 safety/No. 29 overall prospect in Kamari Wilson, the No. 2 linebacker/No. 18 overall player in Shemar James, and the No. 10 cornerback/No. 80 overall talent Devin Moore. 

Forget that Florida signed just nine players on Wednesday, and even with them still has only 73 players on scholarship for next season. After initially targeting quality over quantity, Napier can now go after many of the the top remaining unsigned prospects, and fill in some gaps through the transfer portal. 

There were two other important developments that should have everyone else in the SEC concerned. 

1] Napier hired defensive backs coach Corey Raymond from his alma mater at LSU. He was the longest tenured coach on staff, going back to 2012, he was a big part of the Tigers claiming to be DBU.  

When Eli Ricks announced he was transferring to Alabama, Raymond was one of the people at LSU he went out of his way to thank.  

2] Whatever was the problem between Dan Mullen and IMG Academy in Bradenton, which cranks out top prospects as well as any program in the nation, it’s already gone.

That, along with former Crimson Tide assistant Mario Cristobal back in Miami, will make recruiting top players out of the Sunshine State a lot more difficult. Yes, even for Saban. 

Napier was paying attention during his time in Tuscaloosa. He had a large support staff at Louisiana and will have an even bigger one in Gainesville. 

Moreover, he’ll bring a sense of stability that the Gators haven’t had in a long time. 

Napier went 7-7 during his first season at Louisiana, then 11-3 and 10-1, and his now-former team is 12-1 heading into its bowl game. Even after taking the Florida job, he stayed to lead the Ragin’ Cajuns in the conference title game.

Why? Because he owed it to his players.  

“There was no question regarding coaching in the championship game,” Napier said. “I mean, that was non-negotiable.”

The 24-16 victory over Appalachian State was was Louisiana’s first Sun Belt title and first out-right conference championship in more than 50 years. 

“Billy did an outstanding job for us,” Saban said. “He was a very good coach. He was a great recruiter. He had great relationships with the players. He was a good teacher on the field. Hard worker, great character, good personality, very, very good family.

“I mean, there’s nothing bad that I could think of to say about Billy Napier in terms of what he did here. No surprise to me, because he’s a very well-organized guy and does due diligence before he makes any decision about anything. Very calculated in terms of how he tries to do things in a very positive way for his organization.”

Coaching Tree Fallout

Napier is the third former Saban assistant coach to take over the Gators since the departure of Urban Meyer, joining Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain, who both had some success in Gainesville but couldn’t maintain it.  

Meyer, of course, was fired for the first time this week, when the Jacksonville Jaguars got off to a 2-11 start and had to deal with numerous distractions regarding the coach. 

There are still some prominent names in the Meyer coaching tree, which includes Ryan Day at Ohio State, Luke Fickell at Cincinnati, and Kyle Whittingham at Utah, plus Mike Vrabel of the Tennessee Titans. 

But the Meyer coaching tree has also taken some serious hits of late, including Mullen, Steve Addazio (fired by Colorado State), and Tom Herman (fired by Texas last year). We won’t even get into Chris Ash at Rutgers, which turned around and brought back Greg Schiano. 

Meanwhile, the Saban coaching tree has never been stronger, with 16 serving as head coaches — including some who were part of the support staff at Alabama and never held positions as assistant coaches. They Joe Judge with the New York Giants, Geoff Collins at Georgia Tech, and just this week Dan Lanning at Oregon.

Working for Saban has paid off, literally. 

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker recently landed a 10-year extension worth $95 million. Cristobal is expected to make $8 million a year at Miami. Kirby Smart is making north of $7 million a year at his alma mater, Georgia. Lane Kiffin just got a $3 million raise, which will pay him an average of $7.25 million at Ole Miss. 

Jimbo Fisher, who was a Saban assistant at LSU, is “only” making $7.5 million at Texas A&M, while Steve Sarkisian is making $5.45 million at Texas, as the Longhorns get ready to join the SEC. 

Let’s just say there’s a lot of green in the Saban coaching forest. 

Tide-Bits

• Per the American Football Coaches Association, Alabama has had the most players named to its All-American teams over the years, with 101 honors by 94 players. The organization didn’t break it down for first- and second-team selections (the Crimson Tide had two, and four, respectively, this year), but the Crimson Tide is followed by Ohio State (78/61); Oklahoma (73/64); Notre Dame (70/62); Michigan (65/59); USC (59/52); Texas (52/46); Nebraska (51/46); Georgia (48/41); LSU (45/39); Florida State (42/38); Clemson (39/35); Penn State (38/36); Auburn (37/35); Miami (Fla.) (36/35); UCLA (36/34), Tennessee (33/31); Pittsburgh (33/30) and Wisconsin (32/30).

• Here’s how well Alabama has adapted to the early signing period. In 2018, it added just 15 players during the first day, most of whom have already left the program. One of them was running back Jerome Ford, now the starting running back at Cincinnati. His bio that day: “A standout running back from the talent-rich state of Florida … a four-star runner and the No. 6 all-purpose back nationally by 247Sports … tabbed a three-star recruit on the 247Composite and by Rivals … coached by Evan Davis at Armwood High School … selected the Crimson Tide over Arizona, Nebraska, USF and UCF.”

• Of those 15, five were from Florida, while just one was in-state, Jalyn Armour-Davis. Still on the team out of that group are Slade Bolden, Tommy BrownEmil Ekiyor Jr., Josh JobeCameron Latu and Stephon Wynn Jr. Defensive lineman Christian Barmore left last year for the NFL, while defensive back Saivion Smith was a junior college transfer.  

• When Alabama faced Ole Miss this season, the Rebels’ front line in its 3-2-6 formation still featured a pair of 300-pound interior defenders. Running back Brian Robinson Jr. took advantage to the tune of 171 rushing yards on 36 carries and four touchdowns. Cincinnati has a similar look, albeit a little more complex, but with smaller players up front. 

• It went largely overlooked, but Alabama added a walk-on kicker/punter this week.

Can You Top the BamaCentral Staff? 

Our crack staff is being put to the test as we’re picking all the bowl games and seeing who can get the most right. 

The contest is being held on our message board, in the Where Football is King section. Think you can top us? Join in and find out. 

To help with your picks, check out: Forde-Yard Dash: Bowl Season Edition

Did You Notice?

• Will This Be the Last National Signing Day in December? Some Officials Are Pushing for It

• How Dan Lanning Turned a Cross-Country Quest Into a College Football Career

• Dabo Swinney on the Transfer Portal: ‘Tampering Galore’

• Bowl Watchability Rankings: One Reason to Tune In to Every Matchup

Christopher Walsh’s notes column All Things CW appears every week on BamaCentral.