Nick Saban Delivers His Best Coaching Job with 2023 SEC Championship Win

Nick Saban Delivers His Best Coaching Job with 2023 SEC Championship Win

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 02: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after defeating the Georgia Bulldogs 27-24 in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 02, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

His resume is so overwhelming that it’s hard to know exactly where to start.

Well, maybe not. Having won seven national championships in his coaching lifetime, Nick Saban’s is on his own Mount Rushmore.

He’s coached some of the greatest teams and players to ever suit up. He assembled the most dominant dynasty in sports in recent memory.

He is, quite simply, the G.O.A.T.

But what he did with this Alabama team is, without a doubt, the greatest achievement of his long, unparalleled career.

Before we can truly digest the brilliance of Alabama’s 27-24 win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, we must first take a trip back to September 16, 2023.

At the time, the Crimson Tide were 1-1. Saban’s team just lost by double-digits to Texas at home—something that felt almost impossible in the Saban era.

The following week, with electric quarterback Jalen Milroe on the sidelines, Alabama crawled past South Florida 17-3.

The game was tied 3-3 at the half, and the dynasty felt dead to many. The team lacked juice. The team lacked offense. The new coordinators on offense and defense didn’t feel like the proper fits.

The year felt completely undone. The obituaries for the 2023 season and the dynasty were written, and they felt reasonable in the moment.

Less than three months later, Alabama ended Georgia’s 29-game winning streak on Saturday night.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 02: Jalen Milroe #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 02, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The potential implications are significant—as is the earlier loss to Texas. But in the moment, as the selection committee processes one of the greatest turnarounds the sport has ever seen, it feels almost insignificant to the moment itself. Although Alabama fans might disagree.

“You know how tired I am right now? I’m happy as hell we won,” Saban told reporters following the game. “My speech in the locker room was one word: Celebrate. And I had just enough in the tank to do a dance.”

Alabama has had much better teams. In fact, as Saban puts the finishing touches on his seventeenth season in Tuscaloosa, one could easily rattle through rosters they’d rather have than this one.

Pick a team, any team; Saban’s had a few. He’s had multiple undefeated years and some of the best teams to ever suit up. In those sixteen full seasons, he’s won 13-or-more games eight times.

And that is precisely the point.

This was a different kind of a season. This was a superhero trying to save the world without its powers; this was a decorated prize fighter finding a new gear in the late 30s.

Saban lost quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr., the No. 1 and No. 3 overall picks in the 2023 NFL draft. These weren’t just tremendous players; they were the heart and soul of the program.

Filling those holes wasn’t easy. In fact, you never truly fill those holes in one year. You simply do what you can with the pieces you have.

Granted, Alabama still has plenty of pieces. Years of dominant recruiting come in handy every now and then, and that certainly happened this year. To simply highlight recruiting as the reason the Crimson Tide found a rhythm doesn’t do proper justice to the job Saban did, though.

Things didn’t suddenly click. The path to an SEC championship, in true Saban fashion, followed a process.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 02: Head coach Nick Saban and James Smith #47 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrate after defeating the Georgia Bulldogs 27-24 in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 02, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

A two-touchdown victory over Ole Miss was unquestionably a moment. As were back-to-back close calls against both Texas A&M and Arkansas.

Alabama trailed Tennessee 20-7 at halftime. The Crimson Tide proceeded to outscore the Vols 27-0 in the second half, winning the game by two scores.

They were tied 21-21 with LSU. They outscored the Tigers 21-7 in the final 30 minutes.

Against Auburn only a week ago, in a game that never should have been as close as it was, Alabama scored a touchdown on 4th and goal from the 31-yard line with less than a minute remaining.

A little lucky? Absolutely.

Although there was some Milroe magic sprinkled in. Alabama’s rise and Milroe’s continued development are no coincidence. The quarterback has always been one of the most exciting players in the nation with the football in his hands. In the past couple of months, however, he blossomed into one of the best players at the position.

Those abilities and Alabama’s growth were both on display against Georgia on Saturday. Milroe was incredibly productive. The offensive line—a pain point earlier in the year—was superb.

All the ills that plagued this team in the early part of the year have healed. And the growth across the board is evident.

Along the way, Saban’s demeanor was measured. He was both calm and animated. He was encouraging and patient. It’s like he knew, which should come as no surprise.

Now, Alabama must wait to see what the committee says. Perhaps the journey will culminate in something much more. Or perhaps it will end with this incredible triumph.

Either way, it doesn’t change the job Saban did. With a season on life support and a dynasty hanging in the balance, the greatest to ever do it somehow took his team and his legacy to another level.

In bringing this program back to life, Saban did something that no trophy will ever showcase. But those who watched the way Alabama evolved into one of the nation’s best teams will remember just how far they’ve come.

All hail the G.O.A.T.

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