Nick Saban’s Lasting Impact on the Alabama – LSU Series
Alabama and LSU has become the premier matchup in the SEC over the past few years, but rarely was this a game with national significance. In fact, this annual meeting often became just another check in the win column for Alabama, minus a handful of exceptions.
Crimson Tide fans joked for decades that they should pay property taxes in Baton Rouge because Alabama owned that venue. The bayou became more of a burial for the Tigers, and at the turn of the century, every fan under 30-years-old could only imagine what a purple and gold celebration against the crimson and white in Tiger Stadium felt like.
Enter Nick Saban.
The former Michigan State head coach was brought to Baton Rouge to turn around a program that had suffered through eight losing seasons in 11 years. At the time of his arrival, only LSU and Ole Miss had yet to represent the Western Division in the SEC Championship Game.
Saban flipped the entire rivalry over in year one by erasing a miserable, home-losing streak and, in the process, breathing life back into Death Valley.
In that 2000 matchup, fullback Dustin McClintock scored to give Alabama a 21-14 lead in the fourth quarter and history appeared to be repeating itself. But the Tigers scored 16 unanswered points and put one of the final nails in Mike Dubose’s coffin.
LSU would win four out of the five games against Alabama under Saban, which had never occurred in the series’ previous 63 year. You can even say the Crimson Tide’s lone victory was a result of Saban’s motivation. In 2002, Alabama players and coaches took out a lot of frustration on LSU after an email leaked claiming Saban had taken shots at NCAA sanctions during a locker room speech, which turned out to be a hoax.
“It was pretty obvious when I was walking across the field that some of the Alabama players were pretty upset about it,” Saban said after the 31-0 loss.
The impact of his time in Baton Rouge would be seen for next few years, despite his departure to the Miami Dolphins. With Les Miles at the helm, LSU ran its series winning streak to five-straight and seven out of eight dating back to Saban’s first year.
Enter Nick Saban, once again.
His return to the SEC West rocketed the rivalry to another level. LSU fans felt betrayed by the same coach that resurrected their irrelevant program. Alabama, and its head coach specifically, became enemy number one in Louisiana and the target of internet venom.
But just like he had done eight years prior, Saban ended a tortuously-long winning streak. The series and rivalry would eventually crescendo in New Orleans on January 9, 2012 when arguably two of the best BCS-era teams took the field with a national championship at stake.
As we know, Alabama would go on to win that game in dominating fashion, which silenced the Tigers’ fanbase for an off-season and transformed much of the hate into respect. It wasn’t only respect for what had just transpired in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome but also respect for what a former coach had left behind at his previous school.
As these two elite teams prepare to face each other once more, the rivalry has leveled out a bit. Of course, Saban’s fingerprint is spread far and wide in Tuscaloosa, but remnants of the Process can still be found in Baton Rouge. When the time comes for the greatest coach of his generation to exit the profession, the impact he’s had on the Alabama-LSU rivalry might be the biggest legacy he leaves behind.