Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz has competed with — and against — Nick Saban for more than 40 years. In the mid-1980s, they were on opposing sidelines with Ferentz coaching the Hawkeyes’ offensive line and Saban leading Michigan State’s secondary.
They spent 1993-94 together under Bill Belichick at Cleveland with Ferentz coaching offensive line and Saban working as defensive coordinator. They also faced off twice as college head coaches. Saban’s Michigan State squad beat Iowa in 199, while Ferentz’s Hawkeyes topped Saban in his final game with LSU at the 2005 Capital One Bowl.
“Nick’s always been a good coach,” Ferentz said. “I was on the other side of the sidelines from him in the ‘80s in the conference. I worked in the same room as him for two years.
“He’s got a unique personality, but Nick is who he is. Like any coach, he is detailed, organized, focused, and has an ability to draw the best out of the players he’s worked with. He certainly did in Cleveland and he’s done it pretty much everywhere he’s been since that time.”
Saban’s success at Alabama is unprecedented, and the program ranks among the elite in college football history. But the Crimson Tide were floundering in the early 2000s, which is why former Alabama athletics director Mal Moore was so diligent in hiring Saban away from the Miami Dolphins in early 2007.
“If you look around at those schools that we all knew when we’re in third grade, most of them experienced some down periods at some point,” Ferentz said. “They don’t last as long and typically, they can recover faster. But Alabama, pre-Nick, look at where they were. Looking at his first couple of bowl games, at least I know his first one was the Independence Bowl or whatever. You wouldn’t have minded playing them that first year, but then they started getting it going.”
Saban’s ability to avoid a down season is another reason why his career was so impressive, Ferentz said.
“There’s certain places that just have some real inherent advantages built in, but it still takes the right people,” Ferentz said. “You got to have coaches that understand it and then you have to avoid sometimes a bad recruiting class or freak injuries, things like that. But that’s what’s been impressive with Alabama, in my opinion. It’s been pretty, pretty steady. Nick did the same thing pretty much at LSU.
“He clearly has a system that works.”