Coaches for Ohio State, Alabama driven harder than others in their profession
By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – Driven perfectionist is a description that fits most college football coaches.
But the way Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Alabama’s Nick Saban do it goes beyond ordinary, everyday driven perfectionism.
Many of their methods and schemes might be similar to other coaches. But their results are definitely superior, which is what makes Meyer against Saban in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl such an interesting match-up.
They win. And win. And keep winning.
Meyer is 139-26 in his coaching career, including 36-3 at Ohio State. Saban is 86-16 in eight seasons at Alabama.
Between them they have six of the last 11 national championships – four by Saban at Alabama and LSU and two by Meyer at Florida.
They are the two biggest names in college football coaching. By comparison, the other two coaches of the playoff semifinalists are probably better known as the guy who followed Bobby Bowden and the guy who replaced Chip Kelly than by their names, Jimbo Fisher and Mark Helfrich.
Meyer and Saban both brought traditional powers out of downturns in their current jobs.
Meyer arrived at Ohio State in 2012 after a 6-7 season in 2011 following the exit of Jim Tressel for failing to report NCAA violations to his bosses and the NCAA.
Saban took over at Alabama in 2007 after seven coaches weren’t able to come close to the success Bear Bryant had before retiring in 1982.
Saban and Meyer’s team played three times when they were at Alabama and Florida.
In 2008, No. 2 Florida beat No. 1 Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game and went on to win Meyer’s second national championship.
The next season, No. 2 Alabama beat No. 1 Florida 32-13 in the SEC championship game and won the national title. The other matchup was a 31-6 Alabama win in a regular-season game in 2010.
“I can’t remember my address or phone number, but I can tell you probably every play in those games,” Meyer said about the No. 1 vs. No. 2 match-ups.
The two coaches battle for many of the same players while recruiting and Alabama has been the dominant team on the field the last six years, winning three national championships since the last time Meyer had a championship team.
Ohio State co-offensive coordinator and offensive line Ed Warinner knows how both coaches approach their job after working for Meyer the last three seasons and working as a graduate assistant for Saban when he was at Michigan State.
“The comparison is they’re both really good at what they do,” Warinner said. “They know how to run programs, they know how to get an organization to run in the right direction, they know how to develop players, they know how to coach. They’re very detail-oriented, they’re very precise in what they want to do. They have high expectations for everybody in the program.”
Alabama has been a nine to 10-point favorite since the playoff pairings were announced.
Meyer undoubtedly will use that as motivation, just as he did when his 2006 Florida team crushed Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS championship game after being a big underdog.
“They have arguably the best program in America over the last five or six years. To be able to take a swing and knock them off would be a monumental achievement for a bunch of guys in Columbus, Ohio,” he said during a Sugar Bowl press conference.
It has been a season of surprising achievements for Ohio State, so one more is not out of the question.
Eleven days before the opener against Navy, Ohio State lost Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Braxton Miller for the season when he re-injured his throwing shoulder.
Then, after his replacement, J.T. Barrett led the Buckeyes to an 11-1 record, he went down with a broken ankle and No. 3 QB Cardale Jones played like a veteran in his first start in a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.
OSU also lost defensive end Noah Spence, who had a team-high 8 sacks last season, when his career was ended by a second failed drug test.
“It has been an incredible year, a year that if you would have told me back in August when I saw our starting quarterback go down that this would happen, I would have said, Not yet,” Meyer said. “You just never can devalue the chemistry on a team, the closeness of a team.”
Defensively, Alabama will be the biggest challenge Ohio State has faced since Michigan State on Nov. 8 because the four teams the Buckeyes have faced since then – Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin – were mostly one-dimensional on offense.
Alabama, with quarterback Blake Sims (3,250 yards, 28 TDs), receiver Amari Cooper (115 catches, 1,656 yards, 14 TDs) and running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry (more than 1,800 yards combined) definitely is not one-dimensional.
Offensively, Jones will see more schemes and blitzes designed to test him than Wisconsin threw at him. And OSU’s offense will be confronted with a defense that has allowed only three rushing touchdowns all season.
Whoever wins, the College Football Playoff is guaranteed to have at least one superstar coach on the sidelines in its first year.
Contact Jim Naveau at 419-993-2087 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.