Count Nick Saban as both.
Count it, as of the game clock striking zero in Sun Life Stadium on Monday night, with Alabama having beaten Notre Dame 42-14 in the Bowl Championship Series final.
Count Nick Saban as the lead coach in the soon-to-end BCS era, and count him as one of the sport’s all-time greats.
Also count Alabama as now owning claim two such coaches in Saban and Bear Bryant.
Saban will reject such comparisons and did Saturday, at BCS Media Day. He called it “unfair,” citing Bryant’s longevity and greatness from beginning to end of his storied career.
Modern-era coaches don’t stay in one place as long as Bryant stayed at Alabama. It’s hard to see any modern coaches warranting inclusion into the every-era club, based on Saban’s criteria.
Then again, Saban just proved it’s as unfair to exclude modern coaches from the club of era-crossing greats, because Saban has now won four major college football championships.
He did it in an era when championships were less mythical. There actually was a championship game for all of Saban’s titles, and his teams won all four of their BCS finals.
He’s done it at two schools, winning one title at LSU and three at Alabama.
His three titles with Bama came in a four-year span, and they came at a time when scholarship limits all but prevent dynasties. In some ways, it’s harder to do what Saban has done now than when Bryant did it.
In winning three titles in four years, Saban has done something that not even Bryant did at Alabama. Bryant came close, winning three of his six championships in five years (1961, 1964 and 1965).
Since Alabama became the first and, likely, only repeat champion of the BCS era on Saban’s watch, he became the only coach to win back-to-back BCS titles.
And make no mistake. It was as much the coach as it was the program making a perfect-storm marriage.
With now 15 national championships, Alabama has the tradition that fuels the passion that makes its football program priority No. 1 in its state. State and school officials will move mountains to see that Alabama football has everything it needs to win championships.
They moved mountains with Saban’s contract six years ago, giving him all the control and money any coach could want in order to lure him back to the college game from the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
Alabama officials did it at a desperate time in the program’s history. A decade of coaching turmoil and lingering effects of NCAA sanctions had lowered the program into relative mediocrity.
Saban came along as Alabama was emerging from the reaching effects of sanctions, and the Tide could again reach the full range of its potential.
Still, with all of Alabama’s advantages, its fans learned through the years between Bryant and Saban that the coach still makes the difference. They learned through Ray Perkins, Bill Curry, Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione, Mike Price and Mike Shula that no program is guaranteed to reach its potential.
Between Bryant’s last national title in 1979 and Saban’s first at Alabama in 2009, Alabama won only one, that under Gene Stallings in 1992.
The coach makes the difference, and the process-oriented Saban is a difference maker. What coach knows how to use the kind of power Alabama invested in him better?
Through consistently elite recruiting and strong mindset management, Saban got Alabama back to its ceiling and kept the Crimson Tide there at a time when no program was supposed to stay on top. It’s a remarkable achievement in any era.
It would have been a remarkable achievement, even when coaches more often stayed at one school 10 years or more. Many stayed that long and never achieved what Saban has.
Indeed, it’s the Nick Saban Era at Alabama. It’s also the Nick Saban Era in major college football.