Saban a centerpiece in Alabama-LSU rivalry

July, 15, 2013
7/15/13
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Editor's note: This week, GeauxTigerNation and TideNation will examine all aspects of the LSU-Alabama rivalry during the Nick Saban-Les Miles era. Up first, a look at how Saban's departure from LSU and eventual hiring at Alabama affected the rivalry.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It must irk the LSU faithful to see Nick Saban so comfortable at the University of Alabama. For years, it seemed as if the unforgivingly ambitious coach would never be content in one place for so long. Alabama was the 13th coaching stop of his career in 2007, and none of the dozen before had kept him for more than four years. There always would be the next job that would take him away, leaving Tuscaloosa feeling the same emptiness Baton Rouge experienced on Christmas Day 2004 when Saban left a lump of coal on his way to the NFL.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesNick Saban left LSU behind -- and the Tigers' fans have not forgotten that fact.
But after more than six years of waiting, moving day hasn't come. There have been offers, but Saban hasn't left Alabama. Now approaching his 62nd birthday, it appears as if the nomad has set down permanent roots.

“I really enjoy what I'm doing here right now," Saban told "The Dan LeBatard Show" in December. "I'm getting old now. I don't think we've got too many moves left in us. You develop a lot of relationships and loyalties to the players you recruit and the players you have on the team and the people you have in the organization. I don't think it's really fair to leave. I regretted when I left LSU because I left a lot of relationships there. Hopefully I'll be able to stay here for a long, long time."

Admitting regret won't do anything to quell the profanity-laden chants toward Saban every time he enters Tigers Stadium. Him admitting regret might as well be adding salt to the wounds of those LSU fans who were just now getting around to the idea of letting his unceremonious departure go.

If it weren't for where he ended up after leaving LSU, there might be no ill will toward him at all. He just had to go to Alabama: the one spot no LSU fan could stomach.

It really was a double whammy when Saban bolted Miami after two seasons with the Dolphins. It wasn't that he wanted back in college football. That was understandable. It was that he was coming back to the SEC and going to the one school in the conference that could stop the Tigers' ascension.

Instead, under Saban, Alabama has become the program to beat in college football, and LSU has been forced to settle for the still-desirable title of "championship contender" year in and year out. It's not that LSU hasn't been one of the best teams in the game, it's that it isn't the best. Sure, Les Miles has held his own in head-to-head meetings, taking three of seven games against Saban's Alabama teams, but that's not what's most important in fans' eyes. Rather, fans see Alabama's three national championships to LSU's one. The Tigers haven't won a title since 2007, and the Crimson Tide have a chance to win their third in a row and fourth in five seasons this year.

[+] EnlargeLandon Collins
Davide De Pas for ESPN.comIn 2012, Louisiana native Landon Collins picked Alabama and coach Nick Saban over LSU, disappointing his mother, April Justin.
Even off the field, Saban has found a way to hit close to home with LSU. In what has become a yearly ritual, Saban and his staff have crossed borders into Louisiana and stolen some of the state's top prospects. He has signed nine Louisiana natives since 2008, many of whom had their decisions come down to LSU or Alabama. The biggest and most high-profile coup came in 2012, when top-rated safety Landon Collins committed to the Tide against his mother's wishes on national television.

This year won't get any easier, as two of the top 10 prospects in the country are from Louisiana. The No. 1 player in the ESPN 300, running back Leonard Fournette, is high on Alabama and LSU, and the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country, Cameron Robinson, says he's down to the Tide and the Tigers, as well. Should both prospects choose Alabama, it could prove to be a backbreaker to Miles' tenure in Baton Rouge, especially if LSU finishes down in a strong SEC West this season.

With every win on the football field and on the recruiting trail, Saban is delivering the not-so-friendly reminder to LSU fans of what might have been had he stayed in Baton Rouge. Had he put aside his restless ways earlier in life, it might be LSU atop the college football world and not Alabama. And no amount of personal regret can change that.

Alex Scarborough | email

Alabama/SEC reporter

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