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COLUMN: Alabama's Nick Saban is the greatest college football coach of all time


Alabama head Coach Nick Saban is presented the trophy after a 24-7 victory against Washington in the Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016. Saban won his sixth national championship against Georgia Monday night.  Tribune News Service

Magicians always make sure they have a trick up their sleeves for the biggest moments.

Alabama’s Nick Saban is part-magician, part-brilliant architect of the greatest college football dynasty in history. To cement his place as the absolute best college football coach of all time, all Saban had to do was execute one of the boldest moves a coach can make.

His latest maneuver to win his sixth national title and fifth championship since 2009 meant removing sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts, who had lost two total games in his college career, for a freshman who had barely seen the field this season.

Brilliant, bold, teetering on insanity; whatever you call it, it worked.

Only Saban, whose football genius is undisputed, could pull it off by switching out Hurts for Tua Tagovailoa at halftime. Tagovailoa won the game for the Crimson Tide in overtime on a brilliant touchdown throw. Energizing Alabama’s offense, he was the change-up that was Saban’s ace in the hole.

Another perfect move from Saban in a decade long reign. 

Saban has done what no one other coach could even think about. He's built a program that exudes an air of inevitability so strong it rolls over teams like a tidal wave. Under Saban, Alabama has every expectation of winning the championship every single year no matter how many first-round draft picks leave the year before. Until he leaves, Alabama will be the No. 1 ranked team heading into each season.

Unavoidable, they are unconquerable.

A few teams have knocked them off once, but Alabama just gets back up stronger than ever. Since their championship in 2009, the Crimson Tide have only lost 12 total games and have not missed a BCS bowl or the College Football Playoff since 2010.

A dominant run that is impossible to replicate. All teams strive to become what the Crimson Tide have transformed into, but it is merely an aspirational goal that’s far out of reach.

Some coaches have emerged during that period as vanquishers such as Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Clemson’s Dabo Sweeney, but neither has been able to build such a vaunted and unimpeachable dynasty.

Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher is a perfect example of how thin the line between dynasty and a botched tenure can be. After winning the championship for Florida State following the 2013 season, Fisher had talent comparable to Alabama, but the Seminoles couldn’t capitalize and haven’t been back to the title game since winning it all.

Becoming a college football empire is nearly unattainable. The shear number of successful moves that it takes to win just one championship is monumental, much less five since 2009.

Hundreds of players and many coordinators have cycled through Tuscaloosa, Alabama, during this time, but Saban remains the constant. With unwavering expectations, he’s crafted the perfect program capable of making it look like destiny that they are going to win.

Monday was no exception.

As soon as Tagovailoa was inserted and started to have success, it became apparent that everything Georgia did to build up that first half lead would prove futile in the end.

Georgia’s Kirby Smart cut his teeth as Saban’s defensive coordinator at Alabama before trying his hand at replicating the success of his mentor. He had done a brilliant job of bringing the Bulldogs to the precipice of a championship, but he still had more to learn.

Saban had one more lesson to teach his former pupil: you’ve got to play a nearly perfect game if you’re going to dethrone this dynasty.

It might wobble at times, but with Saban at the helm, it won’t ever get too far off track.

It’s not magic; it’s just the best coach college football will ever see. 

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