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Nick Saban’s respect for Bear Bryant extends beyond national championship record



Nick Saban's respect for Bear Bryant extends beyond national championship record

One week before he put on an all-time performance in the College Football Playoff championship game, DeVonta Smith faced a question about the lasting lesson he’ll take from playing for Nick Saban.

“With him, it’s how you treat people,” Smith said on Jan. 4. “No matter how people are treating you, you always treat everyone else with respect.”

Saban will be treated with reverence after leading No. 1 Alabama to a 52-24 blowout victory No. 3 Ohio State on Monday. That gave Saban a sixth national championship with the Crimson Tide, and seventh overall as a head coach. Monday’s win broke the record set by former Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

MORE: Alabama submits legacy with Ohio State win: Nick Saban’s best team

Saban treats that comparison with a different kind of respect.

“I don’t think anybody really compares to Coach Bryant,” he told reporters after the game. “In the era that he coached; the era that he won. He won a lot of different ways. He won throwing it. He won running a wishbone. He won it running conventional offensive formations. His legacy lasted over a long, long period of time.”

Sound familiar? Saban has accomplished the same feat, and those dueling legacies converged one more time with the Buckeyes as the backdrop.

Jeff Rutledge remembers walking into Bryant’s office a week before the 1978 Sugar Bowl matchup against the Buckeyes. The Alabama quarterback planned on getting married the following weekend, but that meant an uncomfortable conversation in Bryant’s office. He recalls it with remarkable accuracy:

Bryant: “Do you know who we’re playing?”

Rutledge: “Yes, sir, we’re playing Ohio State.”

Bryant: “Hell no, son. We’re playing Woody Hayes. I’ve never played him, and you’re getting married?”

Following an awkward silence, Bryant broke the tension.

Bryant: “Do you love her?”

Rutledge celebrated his 43rd anniversary with his wife Laura on Jan. 7, mere days before Saban passed his own coach in championships won. Those memories came flooding back when he heard Smith talk about Saban.

“I heard that, and Coach Bryant did talk about those things,” he said. “Forget football. He would come in and talk about calling your mom and your dad. Calling your high school football coach and thanking them for raising you the way they did. It was about life. It was about that respect.”

Football, of course, was the mechanism for motivation. Bryant left that conversation with a simple message for Rutledge.

“You better play your ass off, son.”

Rutledge obliged. Alabama beat Ohio State 35-6 and followed up with a national championship the next season. Bryant would win his final national title in 1979. It was his sixth in 25 seasons — a bar that seemed impossible to clear when Saban took over at Alabama in 2007. Yet he followed Bryant’s formula to perfection, on an accelerated pace. Saban now has six national championships in 14 seasons, and he has done that by evolving with a sport that moved from the BCS era to the four-team College Football Playoff.

Alabama’s BCS championship teams were known for ground-and-pound and elite defenses. The CFP era national title teams shifted with the high-scoring, quarterback-friendly spread. Three of those national championship teams featured Heisman Trophy winners in Mark Ingram (2009), Derrick Henry (2015) and now Smith (2020), the first receiver to win the award since 1991.

The 2011 national title team allowed 8.2 points per game. This year’s championship team scored 48.5 points per game.

“We all have to adjust with the times,” Saban said. “Obviously things are a little different now. The challenges are a little bit different with the spread offense, the things that make it more difficult I think to play good defense in this day and age.”

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Rutledge notices another common thread between the two coaches. As a quarterback, he had more contact than most players with Bryant during his playing days.

“Coach Bryant would come into our meetings every now and then, and sit, listen to whoever our coordinator was,” Rutledge said. “He let our coaches coach. From what I see, Coach Saban does the same thing.”

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is proof of that. Sarkisian took the Texas job on Jan. 2, becoming the 12th current FBS head coach to have served as an assistant under Saban. Sarkisian, who was a two-time head coach at Washington and USC, first joined the Alabama staff as an analyst in 2016.

“This is the greatest college football coach of all time, and recognize the space that you’re in,” Sarkisian said. “There’s been a variety of us that have come and gone through here. But he’s a tremendous mentor and if you allow yourself to be mentored, I think you gain even more out of this experience.”

Sarkisian awarded that experience in 2020, perhaps more than any other previous assistant. He served as acting head coach for the Iron Bowl when Saban tested positive for COVID-19. Under his tutelage, Smith, quarterback Mac Jones and running back Najee Harris all finished among the top-five vote-getters in the Heisman Trophy race.

Of course, Saban has built the dynasty with five-star recruiting classes, but there is a twist. Smith and Harris were among the players who could have opted for the 2020 NFL Draft. After all, Alabama is a factory that has produced the most first-round picks of the last decade.

Saban is active in those yearly discussions, where he emphasizes to players the difference between first-round money and being a second-day pick. He does that out of respect for those players.

“At the same time, I always tell players, if you’re not 100 percent committed to getting better at the things that you need to improve on, then you’re not going to improve your draft status,” Saban said. “So, it’s probably not going to do any good for you to come back.’”

MORE: OSU’S last CFP title chance vs. Alabama vanished in one uninspired series

That paid dividends for those players in 2020, who make up the Saban’s most decorated team ever. Smith won the Biletnikoff Award. Harris won the Doak Walker Award. Center Landon Dickerson won the Rimington Trophy, and Alex Leatherwood won the Outland Trophy. Jones, a first-time starter at quarterback, won the Davey O’Brien and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm awards. Cornerback Patrick Surtain II, a Jim Thorpe Award finalist, was one of five unanimous Alabama All-Americans (Jones, a consensus selection, finished first on four of five All-America teams).

Jones, like Rutledge, delivered against Ohio State: He passed for 464 yards and five touchdowns on Monday. Jones was asked afterward whether Saban is the greatest coach of all time.

“C’mon, man,” he responded. “Of course he is. How could he not be? He does it the right way. He recruits well, but more importantly develops great players and young men. I’m just so blessed that he gave me a chance to come here along with all my teammates. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. He’s the greatest to ever do it.

“He’ll be the greatest for a long time.”

Rutledge knows how Jones feels. Rutledge still talks about the feeling after a big play when Bryant smacked his helmet with the folded-up depth chart he clutched in his hand — a measure of rare emotion during games. While Saban might be more emotional on the sideline, that respect crosses generations.

“Records are made to be broken, but knowing I played for Bear it’s a great accomplishment for Coach Saban,” Rutledge said. “It’s taken a long time to break that record, but you’re happy for the current players because you know what that takes.”

Saban shared that respect for this year’s team, which battled through an unprecedented pandemic to complete the season. He smiled a little more than usual after this victory, and labeled this group as the “ultimate team.” 

“We played 13 games and went undefeated with all the disruptions we had this season,” he said. “I think there is quite a bit to write about when it comes to the legacy of the team.”

That is quintessential Saban. While the focus will always be on his accomplishment, he would rather talk about the players and coaches who made that possible instead while moving on to the next one.

That is the root of “The Process.” No matter how many national titles Saban piles up, he won’t see that praise in the same way.

Instead, he will show respect for the coach he just passed and the game both mastered at Alabama.

“I think Coach Bryant is sort of in a class of his own in terms of what he was able to accomplish, what his record is, the longevity that he had and the tradition he established,” Saban said. “If it wasn’t for Coach Bryant, we would never be able to do what we did.”

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Masahiro Tanaka free agency: Right-hander returns to Japan after seven years with Yankees



Masahiro Tanaka free agency: Right-hander returns to Japan after seven years with Yankees

Masahiro Tanaka is back pitching in Japan after completing a mostly successful tenure with the Yankees.

The Rakuten Golden Eagles announced Thursday that Tanaka had returned to his original club, which posted him in late 2013 so he could play stateside. Terms were not disclosed. Reports on Wednesday said the sides were close to an agreement.

Tanaka, 32, became an MLB free agent in the offseason after his seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees expired. He was solid during his time in the Bronx, posting a 3.74 ERA in the regular season and a 3.33 mark in the postseason. 

Tanaka put up those numbers despite pitching almost his entire Yankees career with a partial elbow ligament tear. He was hurt during the 2014 season but opted to rehab and treat the injury rather than have surgery.

MORE: Why did the Yankees trade Adam Ottavino?

Last year, he started his season a week late after suffering a concussion during summer camp. He was struck in the head by a Giancarlo Stanton line drive during live batting practice at Yankee Stadium.

He publicly opened the door to a return to Japan around New Year’s when he said in a radio interview that he would consider signing with the Golden Eagles or the Yomiuri Giants. Before then, his focus reportedly was on re-signing with the Yankees.

While Tanaka stayed on the market, New York traded for Jameson Taillon and signed free agent Corey Kluber. They join a rotation that has multiple question marks after Gerrit Cole.

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Glazers in? Divisive family on verge of success with Manchester United, Buccaneers



Glazers in? Divisive family on verge of success with Manchester United, Buccaneers

Glazers out.

Many times over the last 15 years these words have been seen scrawled on a banner or posted on social media.

The Glazer family famously owns world soccer powerhouse Manchester United and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Its leadership of both organizations isn’t really associated with success, with the Red Devils and Bucs both going through extensive periods without much glory.

MORE: Man Utd loss to Sheffield United had been coming | Brady leads Bucs to NFC title

But in recent times, the two clubs have turned it around on the field: The Bucs have made it to Super Bowl 55 and Manchester United is a realistic title contender for the first time in nearly eight years.

American businessman Malcolm Glazer and his six children purchased the Bucs franchise for a then-record $192 million in January 1995. The team hadn’t reached the playoffs since 1982 and had won just 87 games in 19 seasons prior to the purchase. The franchise picked up in the years after.

Following four visits to the playoffs in five seasons, Tampa Bay won its only Super Bowl title in 2003 against the then-Oakland Raiders, in Jon Gruden’s first campaign as the team’s head coach.

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The Bucs struggled to replicate the success in following seasons, and the Glazers eventually fired the long-serving Gruden in 2008. That began a spiral that wouldn’t see the team qualify for the playoffs until 2020.

Between 2008 and 2019, the Glazers hired and fired four coaches as the franchise managed just two winning seasons. Current coach Bruce Arians was hired in 2019 and then legendary quarterback Tom Brady arrived in March last year. Their leadership has driven the Bucs to the Super Bowl.

The Glazers’ purchase of Manchester United in 2005 has seen the English Premier League giants embark on an eerily similar path as the Bucs despite the vast differences in their historical success.

With sons Joel and Avram by his side, Malcolm Glazer controversially took control of the Red Devils while they were in the midst of a glorious era under Sir Alex Ferguson and with players of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs in the squad.

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The club’s supporters weren’t happy with the American family buying the club because the deal saddled the financial powerhouse with debt of around $900 million as the Glazers used a leveraged buyout plan financed by loans for the purchase.

On the field, the situation wasn’t much better. Chelsea, under master coach Jose Mourinho, won the Premier League title in 2004-05 and 2005-06 during the early stages of the Glazer ownership at Old Trafford.

A stroke and illness to patriarch Malcolm Glazer in 2006 led to sons Joel and Avram assuming leadership of the Red Devils. The elder Glazer died in 2014.

Protests were regularly seen inside and outside Old Trafford, with “Glazers out” emblazoned on banners at nearly every match.

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Just like with the Bucs, Manchester United was building in the early days of the Glazer leadership, before a sustained period of success in which the Red Devils won the next three Premier League titles and five of the next seven.

This was achieved under the leadership Joel and Avram Glazer, with Malcolm taking a back seat after his stroke.

However, the retirement of the legendary Ferguson as Man Utd coach at the end of 2013 saw the Red Devils experience a decline similar to what occurred with the Bucs.

Just like with the coaching turnover with the Bucs, the Glazers couldn’t settle on a manager at the Theatre of Dreams. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho were all hired and fired without really getting close to a league title.

Suddenly, almost surprisingly, both the Bucs and Manchester United are contenders to win their domestic titles in 2020.

The Bucs have been rewarded by sticking with Arians after a 7-9 campaign last season. The signing of Brady, who many thought was well past his best at 43, now looks inspired.

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At Manchester United, the Glazers installed club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a coach with a modest record in the profession but a personality who understood the culture at Old Trafford through his playing years at the club.

Despite Solskjaer’s struggles at times, the Glazers and club’s hierarchy have stuck with the novice Norwegian and it seems as if they are being rewarded. The Red Devils are in Premier League title contention and among the favorites to win the FA Cup.

It seems both Man United and the Bucs have enjoyed a meteoric rise at least partly because of the stability installed in the club by the Glazers after years of tumult and short-term fixes.

Even though the Glazers have been in charge for a long time, it seems a method for success in their ownership may have finally been found.

Glazers in?

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Who is David Culley? Texans bringing in veteran NFL assistant as head coach



Who is David Culley? Texans bringing in veteran NFL assistant as head coach

David Culley is finally getting his opportunity to lead an NFL team after working for more than a quarter-century as a pro assistant. He is about to become the Texans’ new head coach, replacing Bill O’Brien and interim coach Romeo Crennel, according to multiple reports Wednesday night.

Culley, 65, is joining Houston by way of Baltimore, where he worked the past two seasons as the Ravens’ assistant head coach, passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. That means he’s moving from Lamar Jackson to, for the moment, Deshaun Watson. Whether Watson will be behind center for the Texans in Week 1 remains to be seen.

MORE: The hunt to find Deshaun Watson jersey-swapped onto every NFL team

If Watson does stay, then he will be playing for a respected NFL coaching vet whose history is on the offensive side of the ball.

A quick SN sketch of Culley, who inherits a 4-12 team that may be in transition in the offseason:

Culley is the newest branch on the Andy Reid coaching tree

Culley was a part of Reid’s staff in Philadelphia and Kansas City for a combined 18 seasons (1999-2016) before moving to the Bills (and ex-Reid assistant Sean McDermott) in 2017 and then the Ravens (and ex-Reid assistant John Harbaugh) in 2019. He was Reid’s wide receivers coach in both places, adding assistant HC duties along the way.

Reid, who is preparing the Chiefs for Super Bowl 55, pointed out some of Culley’s top personal traits.

Positive energy and people skills will be needed after the Texans’ poor season, which left star pass-rusher J.J. Watt frustrated.  

Personal qualities aside, Culley is a first-time head coach with no experience as a full-time coordinator, but the Houston Chronicle reported that new Texans general manager Nick Caserio told Culley in their second interview that Caserio had no issues with that lack of experience.

Culley had a long college coaching career before the NFL

He began in the college ranks in 1978 with Austin Peay. Stops at Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee State, Chattanooga, Southwestern Louisiana, UTEP and Texas A&M followed before he was hired by the Buccaneers in 1994.

Former Aggies coach R.C. Slocum lauded his ex-assistant for his character.

“He’ll do a great job. He is the kind of guy in the clubhouse that players want to play for. He’ll rally the guys around him,” Slocum told the Chronicle after learning that the Texans were about to hire Culley.

He edged out former NFL head coaches for the Texans job

The Chronicle reported that the Texans also interviewed Leslie Frazier, Jim Caldwell and Marvin Lewis for the job, as well as assistants Matt Eberflus, Brandon Staley (who became the Chargers’ head coach) and Joe Brady.

WATSON TRADE TRACKER: Timeline of rumors, dysfunction

Per the Chronicle, they also interviewed Eric Bieniemy, Reid’s current offensive coordinator in Kansas City. Watson reportedly became upset when the Texans initially did not follow his suggestion to talk to Bieniemy. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes reportedly gave Bieniemy a strong recommendation in a conversation with Watson. 

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