It’s not often you get to hear a pioneer in his field speak on the factors that led him to reach greatness. Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay aren’t speaking about being the first climbers to summit Mount Everest any time soon. Michelangelo isn’t giving any more interviews about the Sistine Chapel.
But the college football equivalent happened Sunday in Birmingham, when Bobby Bowden spoke to the Over the Mountain Touchdown Club about winning at an elite level for an extended period of time, and a certain coach in that state who seems to have mastered the art in recent years.
Bowden’s Seminoles remain the paragon of consistency in the ultra-modern era of college football. Every year from 1987-2000, Florida State won at least 10 games, never losing more than two, including eight 11-win seasons and two 12-win seasons that brought the school’s two national championships. For 14 straight seasons, the Seminoles closed the season ranked in the Top 4, a college football record.
Nick Saban’s Alabama program has emerged as the latest challenger to Florida State’s unyielding consistency. Beginning in 2008, Saban’s second year in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide ripped off a string of winning that has seen the Crimson Tide go 61-7 with three national championships, three SEC championships and year-end AP rankings of No. 6, No. 1, No. 10, No. 1 and No. 1. The numbers don’t exactly match up with Florida State’s standard, but Alabama has already notched more hardware than the Seminoles did in their run.
Most importantly, Bowden doesn’t see the Crimson Tide’s roll slowing down any time soon.
“I think it’s amazing what’s happened three of the last four years, but I tell you something, it’s easier to get to the top (than) stay there,” Bowden said. “The amazing thing is so far — and I say so far because I know it and he knows it — it can end any minute.”
Bowden speaks with a voice that only a coach who’s faced that challenge knows exactly how many pitfalls it encompasses.
“He’ll have his hands full next year, people don’t understand that,” he said. “When he loses a lot of people, and the chemistry and everything is so important, you know? Can he get the chemistry again of ‘let’s go after the boys?’ It’s a task, and I’m being honest with you, if I was an Alabama man I’d rather have it in his hands than anybody else I can think of.”
Saban may have his hands full, but it’s a problem that 124 other head coaches would certainly love to have.