- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If you're an Alabama fan still basking in the glory of consecutive BCS National Championships, take a second to forget the here and now. You should be well acquainted with that line of thinking, thanks to UA head coach Nick Saban and his borderline obsession with avoiding all talk of the past, but in case you aren't, pay attention.
Rather than revel in yesterday's success, let's take a look forward at ESPN's Future Power Rankings, which has Alabama ranked No. 1, and see what lies ahead for Alabama's dynasty:
The Tide will rise if ...
There's not a lot of room to improve upon back-to-back national championships and three titles in four years, but so long as Nick Saban is at the helm, Alabama fans have to feel good about the trajectory of the program moving forward. Even at 61 years old, the Crimson Tide's domineering head coach hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, whether that's on the football field or on the recruiting trail.
It should be no secret by now, but Alabama's success in recent seasons can be traced directly back to its dominance in recruiting. Since Saban's first full year recruiting for UA in 2008, the Tide has never finished outside the top three of ESPN's class rankings, and this past February, Alabama completed back-to-back No. 1 signing classes. No other program in the country can claim either such feat.
But unlike some top signing classes that haven't panned out elsewhere, Alabama has found a way to avoid the big bust, thanks in large part to Saban's methodical style of coaching. Every piece of the puzzle, down to physical build and specific traits like pad level and fluid hips, is mapped out. If a player doesn't fit the scheme, he doesn't get signed. If he then doesn't understand the playbook, he doesn't play. The rules, in Saban's way of coaching, are not meant to be broken. And it's the biggest reason why Alabama is an annual championship contender. So long as Saban is keeping the Tide on track by sticking to his guns, the opportunity to win titles will be part of life in Tuscaloosa.
The Tide will fall if ...
Saban still spends countless hours at the football complex on campus, still recruits with the vigor of a much younger coach, and when he's yelling during games, it's hard to tell just how far over the hill he is. But at his age, just how much longer can he keep going? Paul "Bear" Bryant retired at 69 years old. Gene Stallings left the game at 61. Sure Steve Spurrier is still a firecracker less than two years shy of 70, but he's the exception to the rule.
For Alabama to continue its dynasty, a plan for Saban's successor must be in place. And even then, nothing is guaranteed to the Crimson Tide. Finding someone with the same skill and tenacity of Saban will be difficult, if not impossible. There are a handful of coaches out there who fit the bill, and it's difficult to imagine any of them wanting to follow in his footsteps. Ask Ray Perkins and Bill Curry how comfortable they felt operating under the long houndstooth shadow of Bryant. Succeeding Saban would be a thankless position with nowhere to go but down. Because if history has taught us anything, it's that replacing a legend doesn't happen easily. Usually another coach or two must fall on his sword before the program can return to dominance.
Dynasties end one way or another. Saban leaving might be the likeliest cause of Alabama's crimson curtain to fall. After all, he has built the program to such a level that there might be nowhere to go but down when he steps aside.
1dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough