First, Phillip Fulmer said something stupid. Then, Les Miles ran his mouth. Really, when you think about it, Urban Meyer started the whole thing.
Now, however, Nick Saban has gotten into the act. The Montgomery Advertiser quotes the Armani Bear as having said the following:
Anybody that has won a national championship in this league, that speaks volumes to me because of the quality of this league from top to bottom and the consistency it takes to be successful long-term.
First of all, Coach Saban needs to use some of that $4 million contract to buy himself a dictionary, because his definitions of "disrespect" and "pretty good" could use some fine-tuning. (I'm not even going to fool with correcting "[a]nybody that.")
According to Nick Saban's definition, does an S.E.C. school qualify as "pretty good" if, after being mired in mediocrity, it hires a failed N.F.L. retread who previously won a national championship at a rival school in the same division? (I'm talking about South Carolina, of course.)
I am, as I have ever been, a regional homer. That does not, however, make me impervious to common sense or evidence. If Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State qualify as "pretty good" football teams, then not even the most devoted Southern partisan could claim that eight or nine S.E.C. teams fit that description.
A more sensible view is taken by the Southeastern Conference football fans at And the Valley Shook, where an honest assessment of the numbers reveals that two of the only three big-name teams to have posted a winning percentage of better than .770 over the course of the last decade are Big Ten squads, many of whose victories have been claimed in marquee non-conference games.
Over the past five years, 12 top-tier teams have won more than two-thirds of their games. Four of those were S.E.C. teams and they were the four you would expect: Auburn, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana State . . . the only four teams to have won Southeastern Conference championships in the last seven seasons.
Which, though, are the other four or five S.E.C. teams that are, in Coach Saban's estimation, consistently pretty good? Certainly, Tennessee can make a valid case for inclusion, but the pickings get pretty slim thereafter. Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi have had successful seasons in the last five years, but none are so consistently excellent that their achievements overshadow those of Iowa, Purdue, and Wisconsin.
For instance, Coach Saban might want to give the Hawkeyes credit for their 2005 Capital One Bowl victory.
Even the one part of Coach Saban's argument that held water fell somewhat short of sufficiency, as the incoming Alabama skipper observed:
I agree that Southern sports fans, in general, are far more passionate about college football than about professional sports, but college football fans in other regions are passionate, too, and Coach Saban's status as an outsider is confirmed by his lack of understanding of history.
I mean . . . 25 years ago? Actually, you'd have to go back more than four decades---to the time before major league baseball and N.F.L. football came to Atlanta---to find a time when Coach Saban's historically valid but increasingly irrelevant point was true. A quarter-century ago, Joe Torre was leading the Braves to a division title, the Hawks were not strangers to the postseason, and the Falcons were making their third playoff appearance in a five-year span. We were then, and are now, more devoted to intercollegiate athletics than to professional sports, but a lack of prominent pro teams was not, and is not, the reason this is so.
What troubles me is that, even though these S.E.C. coaches are pandering to the worst elements of their fan bases by saying such things, their observations are those of interlopers insultingly playing to the lowest common denominator. Other than the home-grown Phillip Fulmer, the smart-mouths saying such things are, to a man, immigrants who are not native to Southern soil.
Urban Meyer is an Ohio native whose coaching experience prior to 2005 was all in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Utah. Les Miles had no ties to the S.E.C. for the first 50 years of his earthly existence. Nick Saban's coaching pedigree traces back to Toledo, the Cleveland Browns, and Michigan State. These carpetbaggers are engaging in the same shameless practices pioneered by Dan McGugin, the Vanderbilt coach who once fired up his Commodores before a game with Michigan by reminding them that their Confederate forebears had seen their homeland invaded by Midwesterners . . . but who failed to mention that his own father had been an officer in the Union Army. (The opposing coach, Michigan's Fielding Yost, was the son of a Confederate veteran.)
Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant agree to settle their differences on the football field.
Yes, Coach Saban spent five seasons at L.S.U., but that stint in Baton Rouge appears to have done little to assimilate him into Southern culture, as evidenced by his subsequent derogatory characterization of Louisianans as "those coonass guys that talk funny." (Seriously, even leaving aside the obvious slur on Cajuns . . . "guys that"? Did no one teach Coach Saban the proper use of the word "who"?)
The fact is that Coach Saban's tenure on the bayou (2000-2004) matched exactly the duration of the earlier period he spent at Michigan State (1995-1999), in the Midwest to which he has far more, and more lengthy, ties. With respect to Coach Saban's stay in East Lansing, Death Cab for Woody's Herringbone made the very good point that Nick Saban was 34-24-1 with the Spartans, not only going 6-7 against the three Big Ten teams he identified as "pretty good" (Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State) but also posting a 2-5-1 record against Purdue and Wisconsin.
Herringbone is correct that this may reveal something of the method to Coach Saban's madness. Go back and re-read the new Alabama head coach's quotation (with emphasis added) while bearing in mind that the speaker posted a poor record against upper-echelon and middle-of-the-road Big Ten teams while capturing a national crown in the S.E.C.:
In other words, "The things I have accomplished are extremely impressive, but the things at which I failed are no big deal."
He tried it and he couldn't do it, so that's why he says it's dumb. You know, sort of like Eddie Murphy with the Moonwalk.
Although Herringbone offers an effective retort to Coach Saban, he nevertheless goes too far when he begins returning criticisms of Michigan's schedule in kind. Writes Herringbone (once again, with emphasis added):
See it's all about perspective, SEC fan looks at Big Ten schedule and thinks there are only 2-3 tough games on there a year. I look at UF's schedule this year and I see 3 teams this year that are even in the arena of being worthy to describe as formidable (Tenn, Auburn, and LSU). Outside of those teams, Georgia and South Carolina are the only teams that might give UF a Northwestern-style scare in-conference. However, Georgia = No Offense.
With all due respect to Herringbone, his characterization of my alma mater is as ignorant and erroneous as Coach Saban's animadversion upon the Big Ten. The "Terrible" Georgia team with "No Offense" managed to hang 37 points on Auburn and score 31 points against Virginia Tech in two of its last three games. The Hokies and the Plainsmen ranked first and seventh in scoring defense, respectively.
The second half of the Chick-fil-A Bowl? That sure looked like offense to me.
Just this morning, I noted that "[t]he Bulldogs are the only S.E.C. team to have won at least nine games in each of the last five seasons and they alone among Southeastern Conference squads have captured two league titles during that span." If you won't take my word for it, though, go back and look at And the Valley Shook's aforementioned charts.
Over the past 10 years, Georgia's .762 winning percentage is the best among S.E.C. teams. Over the past five years, Georgia's .803 winning percentage is the best among S.E.C. teams. Whatever one may think of Southeastern Conference newcomers' arrogant remarks, surely the league deserves enough respect that its top program qualifies as "being worthy to describe as formidable" . . . or, at least, not "[t]errible."
Mark Richt is one of only six coaches in conference history to have won two S.E.C. championships in his first five years in the league. He is one of only five coaches in conference history to have posted four straight seasons of double-digit victory totals. Coach Richt is 25-2 in non-conference contests, including marks of 10-0 against the A.C.C. and 2-0 against the Big Ten.
In fact, since Penn State was an independent at the time of the 1983 Sugar Bowl, the Bulldogs have gone 7-0 against the Big Ten since the Red and Black's last loss to a Midwestern B.C.S. conference opponent on October 5, 1957. While I agree that Coach Saban's current and former leagues are comparable conferences, surely Georgia should get some respect for being less than three months shy of celebrating the 50th anniversary of its last loss to a Big Ten team, particularly at a time when Damon Evans is trying to schedule regular-season games against teams like Michigan.
Less than a month ago, I took the pledge (and not without taking some criticism) to refrain from participation in the conference wars, and so I shall. I hope my fellow denizens of the intercollegiate athletics blogosphere likewise will refrain from fighting these battles . . . or, at a minimum, that they will choose not to malign elite S.E.C. programs with classy coaches in retribution for the stupid things said by coaches from Big Ten country who are in, but not of, the South.