ATLANTA (AP) — There is no escaping Nick Saban’s influence on the Southeastern Conference. His coaching tree was represented on each of the four days of the SEC’s media gathering.
South Carolina’s Will Muschamp, who was Saban’s defensive coordinator when LSU won the 2003 national championship, took the stage on Thursday. It was no surprise he was asked to talk about Saban.
New Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, who also worked under Saban at LSU, took his turn on Monday. Then came two of Saban’s former Alabama defensive coordinators — Georgia’s Kirby Smart on Tuesday and new Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt on Wednesday.
“When you work for coach Saban, it’s a total education in the game of football, recruiting, all of the things that you got to do to be successful,” Muschamp said.
Muschamp and the other former Saban assistants all are chasing the Alabama legend in the Southeastern Conference.
It’s not easy to top the mentor. Saban is 12-0 against his former assistants, including a win over Smart’s Bulldogs in last season’s national championship game. Even in a season in which Smart took Georgia to its first SEC title since 2005, it wasn’t enough to beat Saban in the biggest game.
Still, university presidents and athletic directors in the SEC can’t be blamed for looking to hire coaches who have trained under Saban, who has won six national championships, including five at Alabama.
“You are what your record is,” Muschamp said. “Nick is the best coach in college football because of the accomplishments he’s had. He’s done an outstanding job running his program from a scheme standpoint, from a recruiting standpoint, from a development standpoint. You name it, he does an outstanding job.”
Alabama is 125-14 under Saban in the last 10 seasons, the most wins by any FBS school in a 10-year span in The Associated Press poll era (since 1936).
Perhaps SEC administrators have hoped some of Saban’s magic comes as part of the package when hiring his former assistants. Or maybe they’ll have a hotline to Saban for help in times of crisis.
Pruitt poked a little fun at that idea.
“You think coach Saban is going to give me advice?” Pruitt asked.
Actually, yes. Saban said he often takes calls seeking advice.
“Well, there’s been many occasions where the guys that are coaching other places, even in our league, call on occasion and ask questions about things that may be a management problem for them, whether it’s their quarterback situation, whether it’s what I think of a certain rule or something that’s going to happen in the future,” Saban said Wednesday.
“Sometimes I call them and ask for their advice and their opinion on things.”
Perhaps the most important advice is to avoid trying to impersonate anyone, including Saban.
“What I tell every guy that when they leave, whether it was Jim McElwain or Kirby or whoever, I said the most important thing for you, when you go to be your own head coach, is you have to be who you are,” Saban said. “You have to be yourself.”
Pruitt also coached under Mark Richt at Georgia and Fisher at Florida State. He had the longest stay, eight years, under Saban.
Pruitt described Saban as “relentless.”
“Nobody works harder than he does,” Pruitt said. “He’s a great coach, great teacher.”
Saban’s SEC coaching tree also includes former Florida coach Jim McElwain and former Tennessee coaches Derek Dooley and Lane Kiffin. His influence extends outside the league to such current coaches as Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, Houston’s Major Applewhite and Oregon’s Mario Cristobal.
Current NFL coaches who worked under Saban include Atlanta Falcons’ Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys’ Jason Garrett and Miami Dolphins’ Adam Gase.
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