With apologizes to Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer are without question the best coaches in the nation in the past decade and no doubt two of the best all-time.
In the past 10 years, their teams have claimed seven national titles. Saban has won championships with the Crimson Tide in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015 (Saban also has one at LSU in 2003), while Meyer’s teams won titles at Florida in 2006 and 2008 and at Ohio State in 2014.
Meyer’s Florida team defeated Saban’s Alabama squad in the SEC title game in 2008 en route to the national title, and his 2014 Ohio State squad defeated the Crimson Tide in the national semifinals.
In 2009, Saban’s Alabama team beat Meyer’s Gators for the SEC crown on their way to the national championship. Saban’s Alabama team also beat Meyer’s team in a regular-season meeting in 2010, so in their four head-to-head meetings they are tied at two victories.
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Despite their age difference of 13 years, Saban (65) and Meyer (52) have a lot in common. Both played college football in the state of Ohio, and both were defensive backs. Saban played at Kent State and Meyer at Cincinnati.
Both coached for Earle Bruce at Ohio State. Saban worked with the defensive backs for the Buckeyes in 1980 and 1981, and Meyer was a graduate assistant under Bruce in 1986 and 1987.
Both got their first head coaching jobs at Mid-American Conference programs in northwest Ohio. Saban’s first head coaching position was at Toledo (Toledo is the birthplace of Meyer), while Meyer got the head job at Bowling Green in 2001.
Interestingly, Meyer applied for a position on Saban’s staff at Toledo but was not hired. Meyer talked with Saban’s wife never received a call back. Saban said in an interview 25 years later that he made a mistake not talking with Meyer.
Saban and Meyer both have 10 bowl wins, but Saban has lost eight bowl games compared to just three for Meyer. Saban has coached two Heisman Trophy winners — Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram — while Meyer coached Tim Tebow.
Saban and Meyer are two of just three coaches with national championships at two different programs. The only other coach to win a national crown at two different programs was the legendary Pop Warner, who won three at Pittsburgh and one at Stanford.
Meyer was the Sporting News Coach of the Year in 2003, while Saban took the award in 2008. The Home Depot National Coach of the Year award went to Meyer in 2004 and to Saban in 2008, while the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award went to Meyer in 2004 and went to Saban in 2003 and 2008.
Both head coaches have masters degrees in sports administration. Saban got his at Kent State in 1975, and Meyer received his from Ohio State in 1987. And both are practicing Catholics.
When Clemson shut out Ohio State 31-0 on Saturday, it was the first time in Meyer’s career that one of his teams has ever been held scoreless. I would venture to say that somewhere along the line, Meyer and Saban will meet again, but it won’t be in this year’s national championship game.
I can see Clemson winning in Tampa, but they have to prove it to me. My prediction, in another close one: Alabama 35 Clemson 31.
Contact Bobby Pope at firstname.lastname@example.org