Thursday's college football: Saban's coaching tree casts shadow over SEC

Associated Press
Alabama coach Nick Saban speaks during the SEC Media Days on Wednesday.

Atlanta — 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.

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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.

Shoe sale

North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham said the school self-reported an NCAA violation because it found that football players were selling shoes.

That is against NCAA rules. The news of the violation was first reported by WRAL’s Jeff Gravely Wednesday afternoon, after UNC appeared at the ACC’s annual football media day in Charlotte.

Cunningham said he didn’t know offhand how many players were selling shoes.

“There were a number of students,” Cunningham said at a break during a UNC Board of Trustees meeting. “Off the top of my head I don’t have it right in front of me, but all the penalties will be determined within the next couple of weeks.”

Personnel dept.

Clemson gave defensive coordinator Brent Venables a five-year contract with retention bonuses that make the deal worth $11.6 million.

The school’s compensation committee of the board of trustees approved the deal — the second time in five months Clemson has enhanced his contract.

In February, Venables had his salary increased to $2 million a year. Now his contract is extended through the 2022 season. While his compensation will remain the same, Venables will earn retention bonuses of $200,000 in 2018 and 2019 and of $400,000 per year each of the last three seasons.

... A Florida attorney who started at linebacker for Florida State’s 1993 national championship team is facing federal tax fraud charges.

Court records show that a federal grand jury in Tallahassee indicted 46-year-old Ken Alexander this week on nine counts of preparing false tax returns, filing a false tax-related document, theft of government funds and aggravated identity theft.

Alexander is the owner of Wizard Business Center, a Tallahassee tax preparation business. The indictment says Alexander prepared and filed false tax returns for various individuals between 2012 and 2016.