Since Bill C’s Alabama preview dropped today and wonders — albeit playfully — just how much longer Nick Saban has at Alabama. With that desperate calculus in mind, let’s run a quick visual experiment.
Nick Saban is sixty-six years old right now. Without getting too morbid about it, assume this much: The continuation of Alabama’s current dynasty rests in large part on Nick Saban being there, alive, upright, and effective at his job. As legendary Texas coach Darrell Royal famously said: “You can’t coach football if you’re dead, though it might improve the team’s performance.”*
*Darrell Royal didn’t say that, but if someone said Royal said that, we’d have to believe them because Darrell Royal is the author of every unsourced football quote ever.
Comparing someone’s long-term performance under stress and sleep deprivation as head coach at the University of Alabama is kind of like testing candidates out for a year-long expedition to Mars. The physical stress is absurd, the mental pressures ridiculous, and the margin for error unreasonable at best. The candidate has to have a wide set of very specialized skills, astonishing endurance, and a maniacal attention to detail. Both jobs potentially involve sacrificing co-workers in survival situations and possibly wearing diapers on long trips. (Recruiting never stops, and neither do Alabama assistants racing down a rural highway with a full bladder to meet a five-star linebacker.)
The Mars mission might be the more reasonable job, actually. No one will ever throw a brick through an astronaut’s office because they lost to Ole Miss.
The closest astronaut we have in any sense to compare Nick Saban to is the guy who also has a statue outside Bryant-Denny Stadium: Bear Bryant himself, who also claimed six national titles and coached at Alabama for well over a decade. Bryant coached at Alabama from 1958 to 1982. This is him during his famous “Speech to Incoming Freshmen”, which was by most accounts probably filmed sometime in the 1960s.
Take in all that obviously cigarette-scented but still vital masculnity, y’all.
NOW: This is Bear Bryant in 1980 at the age of 66, Nick Saban’s current age, talking and pitching some delicious local staples during his coach’s show.
Probably not the best advertisement for the long-term health benefits of heavy Golden Flake and Coca-Cola consumption, sure. It was a different era where everyone smoked and drank incessantly — and Bryant was a legendary performer in both disciplines. Bryant had survived childhood poverty, backwoods dentistry, and an actual shipwreck before he was thirty. Life was way, way harder for him.
Bear Bryant already looked forty when he was twenty, and fifty when he was forty. It seems reasonable enough that at the age of 66 he would look like five hundred years old, and seconds away from advising a young King to kill his brothers and assume the throne because “The Highlanders will support you, Sire.”
Still: That’s a lot of wear and tear on a human under any circumstances, and that’s before he coached football at Alabama for fifteen years.
Now for comparison, let’s see how Nick Saban looked at fifty-five years old in September of 2007...
...and how he looked this year at sixty-six after coaching for a decade at Alabama and winning his fifth national title at the school.
Okay so he’s gonna coach there forever and make Bill Snyder look like a quitter in comparison — and that picture is set in the terrible lighting of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where everyone looks like a waxy corpse. Those probably aren’t even grays up there, but rather fresh, expertly installed blond highlights.
It’s really unfair on a few levels. Personally, we’re going to look like the thing Bear Bryant’s smoker’s lungs coughed up in the morning at 66. Nick Saban, meanwhile, looks like he’s about to sass his grandson about beating him in an morning game of H.O.R.S.E. Grandpa’s sorry, but he’s gotta go for a twenty-mile bike ride now. Work on your three-pointers. Maybe he’ll give you a rematch when he gets back, son.
In conclusion: Damn your good genes and clear complexion, Nick. Take up smoking or something. It’s what Bear would have done, dammit.