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“Why Alabama is the Best & Oklahoma is Just OK; 2 Programs That Went In Opposite Directions”

 

nick_saban_09182012

What a difference 10 years makes.

As I looked over the Oklahoma media offerings this last week, I read 19 articles on the reason the media said Oklahoma lost to Ohio St.   Only 2 writers got it right.   Let’s go on a 10 year journey for answers to why Oklahoma is just OK, and Alabama is the best program in the country.

The Reality in Norman:

Dozens of Sooner fans either blocked or unfollowed me on Twitter at the start of the season when I said this was a 3 to 4 loss Oklahoma team.   In my mind it was a mistake that people had them as the #3 team in the nation. In fact at the start of the season I had Houston and Alabama playing for the National Championship. I’m a closet Sooner fan; I still have my throwback Billy Sims Jersey in my closet; but we need to look at the facts.

Bob Stoops
Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops comments on his team during the Big 12 Conference Football Media Days in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tim Sharp)

When Bob Stoops Arrived at Oklahoma:

When Bob Stoops and his defensive coordinator/brother Mike Stoops first came to Norman, it was a breath of fresh air. With one of the richest football traditions in the country, Bob took over after the John Blake era which was a train wreck. Bob Stoops won a national championship beating four top 5 teams along the way, including #1 Nebraska.

The Stoops brothers were aggressive and they had dominating defenses.  The Sooners dismantled Florida St in the National Championship game 13-2 with one of the great defensive performances in college football history.  It was a magical year in the OK state.

Stoops also embraced the tradition. Here is a school that still holds the record for most wins in a row in College Football history at 47. And he showed great respect for their head coach Bud Wilkinson. Many remember the hitch and trailer play against #1 Nebraska in the National Championship year to honor the team of the 1970’s who used that play to help beat Nebraska in Lincoln. Many also remember on their own 29 yard line in Tuscaloosa, using a fake punt in the third quarter and then throwing a bomb on the next play for a touchdown to help beat Alabama on the road. I remember a lot of great risks and fun payoffs. Those days are long gone.

I also remember Sooner fans booing for 3 hours a couple of years ago watching OU’s CB’s playing 10-15 yards off of the line of scrimmage against Baylor like it was pitch and catch in the backyard. The aggressive magic turned into old man conservatism.

Nick Saban Comes To Alabama:

People forget what a train wreck the Alabama Football program was before Nick Saban. There were several scandals, two probations, wins that were forfeited, and the firing of newly hired head coach Mike Price who was a little too wild at a strip club in Florida.   Add the over-matched Mike Shula’s coaching tenure and this once proud program had become a dysfunctional mess.   All that’s forgotten now.   Saban’s first press conference was filled with excitement.

 

Saban was the conquering hero at LSU in college but in the pro’s the media ate him up; especially during his second year which ended 6-10. Like most college coaches he was used to the college media bubble that can be mostly controlled by the coaches. In the pro’s a coach was like a raw steak in a lake full of piranha. His players didn’t like him, and neither did the media. After he left Miami, for months ESPN and NFL reporters all over the country destroyed Saban. They called him Nicktator and Nick Satan. I’ve never in my lifetime seen a coach so hated in one place and loved in another.   And to be honest he probably deserved a little of both. In 2010 he somewhat apologized for his “lack of professionalism” in Miami but it didn’t help.

The NFL Network has trashed him on several worst of lists including the below video (pretty harsh) naming him the 7th worst college coach to ever coach in the NFL. Many remember him scolding the Miami media for weeks saying he wasn’t leaving when in reality he had been talking to the late Alabama AD Mal Moore for weeks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LNA4eiqw4s

Here is the explanation in the book “Saban; The Making of a Coach”.

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/sports/football/new-book-nick-sabans-wife-wanted-out-of-miami-push/nm2Ty/

Oklahoma Going Down, Alabama and the SEC Going Up in Recruiting:

When Saban arrived from Miami, he immediately went on a recruiting blitz. He didn’t have the time the other schools did to recruit his first year; he arrived late; but he immediately improved his first class in 2007 and didn’t just blow the year off. That helped set a tone.  The biggest reason Alabama is the best is because they recruit the best and have the best talent.  CBS reported that 80% of Bama’s players are 4 or 5 star recruits.  That’s unreal.

The SEC has 3 of the best recruiters in college football. Mario Cristobal at Alabama, Tommy Thigpen at Tennessee, and Corey Raymond at LSU.   These are the guys doing the dirty work of visiting high schools, kissing babies, eating mom’s apple pie and talking to dad’s about the good ol’ days. Imagine Mario Cristobal wooing you and then Nick Saban closing the deal.   That’s tough to beat.

Urban Meyer got all the credit at Florida but who was one of his key recruiters?   Charlie Strong the new Head Coach at Texas. Strong went on to great success at Louisville and just had a top ten recruiting class for Texas in 2016.

Another thing Alabama has done in the recruiting wars is dominate the offensive and defensive line position. In the last 3 years Alabama had the #1 ranked offensive line class in the nation.   Their defensive line doesn’t miss out either. They are either #1 or #2 for the last 6 years. The NFL draft shows the fruits of their success.

While most teams are going to finesse offenses using the spread, Alabama for the most part has kept their roots. Saban has allowed OC Lane Kiffin to open up things in the past but when the chips are down, the power running game is what they are all about.

Alabama’s first recruiting class with Saban in 2007 was #17 in the Nation. Then the magic started to begin. It’s amazing what happened.

Recruiting Rankings:

2007:

Oklahoma #5

Alabama #17

 

2008

Oklahoma #8

Alabama #3

 

2009

Oklahoma #11

Alabama #2

 

2010

Oklahoma #20

Alabama #3

 

Now let’s fast forward to the last 4 years.

(www.rivals.com)

2013

Oklahoma #15 (0 five star, 7 four star)

Alabama #1 (4 five star, 13 four star)

 

2014

Oklahoma #15 (1 five star, 8 four star)

Alabama #1 (6 five star, 13 four star)

 

2015

Oklahoma #14 (0 five star, 14 four star)

Alabama #2 (4 five star, 14 four star)

 

2016

Oklahoma #16 (1 five star, 10 four star)

Alabama #1 (5 five star, 10 four star)

 

2017

Oklahoma #4

Alabama #2

In some publications, Alabama just had their sixth straight #1 college football recruiting class. Oklahoma’s highest recruiting class in that time was #14.

In the last four years these are the 4 & 5 star players:

Oklahoma: (2 five star, 39 four star)

Alabama: (19 five star, 50 four star)

There is good news for the Sooners though; Bob Stoops has rebounded in 2017 and OU is now ranked the #4 recruiting class so far. That team from Tuscaloosa? #2 so far. Now many things can happen; some players change teams like the wind so there is still a lot of work to do. Remember you are dealing with teenagers; but hopefully OU is back on track.

Alabama a Step Above:

The #1 thing is obviously they have the best players.  No one recruits like they do.

Innovation isn’t Saban’s thing.  What makes him great is preparation, readiness, teaching quality fundamentals and technique and demanding perfection.  It’s one thing to have the best players but you have to teach and coach them properly.

My dad was a great coach and he taught me so much.  Proper footwork, tackle readiness/positioning, balance; football is more in depth than fans think.  I love watching well coached teams.  From Alabama to Jim Harbaughs teams, to the great dynasty at North Dakota St. in the FCS, I really enjoy watching the teams play. I especially love defense.  The rules in college and the pro’s have made it a federal crime to breath near a WR or QB so passing is much easier in today’s game. That means a great pass rush is VITAL.  While other teams are still only rushing 3 men, Saban and other SEC schools get that a pass rush is important.  Some teams still don’t.

The average fan says it’s a passing game now and defense doesn’t matter as much. Problem is they are wrong.  The Big 12 seems to feel this way.  In reality though good defenses will beat good offenses most of the time.  Ask the Carolina Panthers and the Clemson Tigers from last year.  Ask Tom Brady how he feels about the NY Giants DL in the Super Bowl.

The SEC Formula; Nick Saban’s Way:

The SEC formula that Nick Saban uses is based on the 1970’s NFL; the greatest era of NFL football. It includes 5 things.

-have great team speed

-stop the run to make offenses predictable

-put great pressure on the QB and control the tempo

-have a great offensive and defensive line

-have a good power running game to run the ball when you need and want to.

Now some will say well of course you will win if you do all those things.  Then why doesn’t everyone do it?

Think about it.  The Big 12 struggles defensively and isn’t physical.  The Pac 12 isn’t physical other than Stanford and they lack team speed.  Michigan & Ohio St. are changing this but for the most part Big 10 teams lack team speed and the ACC; who has the worst winning % in the bowl series of any Big 5 Conference; also struggle defensively and lack physicality.  There are exception but this is the reality of each conference.

While many teams have fallen in love with the spread offense and throwing 50 times a game, Nick Saban goes with what brung him; defense & a physical running game makes him tick.

This is the way the Big 8 used to be when Oklahoma and Nebraska were winning National Championships. Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes and Bear Bryant did it; it’s old school football that Alabama plays with a little more modern passing offense. None of Sabans QB’s will tear up the NFL, but his defensive and offensive lines will.

Saban’s Way Saved the Mississippi Game:

I tweeted at halftime of the Mississippi Alabama game, “RUN THE BALL, RUN RUN RUN”. Alabama threw 23 times in the first half for 2.8 yards a reception. Bama was behind 24-17 and were lucky to be so close. They put the game’s hands in the arm of Jalen Hurt; a freshman QB; on the road. Hurt isn’t a particularly accurate thrower and he missed on some key passes, but wow can he run.

Alabama passed only 8 times in the second half and ran for over 334 yards and won 48-43. They ended the game with 7 yards per rush, and only 5.1 yards per reception. Don’t think for a second that Nick Saban didn’t tell OC Lane Kiffin at halftime, “we aren’t throwing 23 times this half”.

Bob Stoops To LSU?:

Many in Oklahoma are not real happy with Bob Stoops. There are rumors that he is being eyed for the head coaching spot in LSU. Because of the failures of late, Stoops has taken a beating in the media. I saw one article calling him Big Shame Bob instead of Big Game Bob. OU is now 8-9 in bowl games with Stoops as coach.

It’s hard to see him leaving OU but if he is going to stay he has to hit the recruiting trail. (LSU Job? Tom Herman of Houston is the sexy pick and I’d think he’d come but if he doesn’t, with Chip Kelly in a mess at San Francisco with their lack of talent; Kelly @ LSU?)

Some say Stoops got complacent in recruiting and the numbers back that. So if I were talking to Bob I’d tell him, “It’s ok Bob; you can keep the spread but you have to go back to what made your teams great from the beginning. A great OL & DL & a great defense. I have my 5 part formula above that you can use when recruiting. And if you don’t want to listen to me, get a hold of Nick Saban.  He’s got a copy”.

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“The Passing Of Legendary Raider Ken Stabler Shocks a Nation”

Kendra: @JimJaxMedia this is an amazing article and tribute to my Dad. Thank you. He would have loved this. The love & support has amazed us all.

Marissa:  @JimJaxMedia  Thank you so much for honoring my dad with such beautiful words.
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“Some People need 8 Hours of sleep and some need 3 hours.  I didn’t need much sleep and sometimes studied my playbook by the light of the jukebox”

Ken Stabler

“He was the perfect quarterback and the perfect Raider.  If I had to pick one quarterback to win a game in the final drive, it would be Ken Stabler”

John Madden

“It’s a Travesty of sports justice that Ken Stabler is not in the Hall of Fame.  He was as good as any quarterback I ever saw”

Former Bronco Great, Tom Jackson

“Joe Namath was the greatest athlete at quarterback that I ever had, but Ken Stabler was the best quarterback that I ever coached.”

Paul “Bear” Bryant, legendary Alabama Coach

“He was such a gentleman.  He wanted to fight it quietly without bother.  That’s who he was”. 

Ted Hendricks, HOF Raider Linebacker

“I never saw anything like it.  He was like Madison Bumgarner the way he could throw fastballs or sliders with pinpoint accuracy.” 

Lester Hayes, Former Raider Cornerback

Kx0IymNp

“The Passing Of Legendary Raider Ken Stabler Shocks a Nation”

A leader and true Southern Gentleman to the end.

I’m the big brother people call when there is a tragedy or a problem. There isn’t a week that goes by where someone won’t call me between midnight and 3 am with either a problem or wanting to talk.  Call it the John Boy Walton in me.  For this I don’t cry much in front of people and I try to be strong. And to be honest I never cry over a celebrity or an athlete’s death. Famous people have never impressed me that much and when people drop their names I just kind of shrug.  Unfortunately after hearing the fiasco which is the internet tell me finally that the matriarch of the dynasty which was the Oakland Raiders was gone, I was filled with emotions that shocked me.

Kenny Stabler; Snake; passed away yesterday at the age of 69 due to complications of stage 4 colon cancer sending a shock wave of sadness throughout the NFL world. In death, as he did in life, Kenny took on the pressure himself and many of his teammates didn’t even know he was sick. Stabler, until the end; was the classy leader that took on the pressure while lifting the load off of others.  Later in life he did color commentary for Alabama games and the state is in mourning for their favorite son.

I slowly walked down my hiking trail and just wanted a minute alone with no sounds. I looked out over the water and for the first time in my life I cried over the loss of a professional athlete.

Ken Stabler; like many; was my favorite athlete. In fact I often either wanted #12 on my teams or the #21 for Roberto Clemente. As an adult I would often write both numbers on professional contracts at the bottom of pages. I remember my parents and coaches getting mad at me as a little boy for wanting to use my left hand like Kenny. I remember praying to God to make me have special powers so I could use my left arm like Stabler did.

For a young fan to even grasp in a small way what Stabler meant to the Raiders would take a lot of effort on their part. If you ever get the chance, read the book Snake. It’s the candid account of the lifestyle and crazy ways of the Raiders of that time. In the greatest era of the NFL in the 70’s, George Clooney and Clint Eastwood had nothing on the Snake.

In high school Stabler was 29-1 as a starter.  He averaged 29 points a game as a high school basketball player and was drafted by two major league baseball teams.  At Alabama he was 28-3-2.  For the Raiders he was 69-26-1.  126-30-4.  I’m speechless.

To see how dominating the Raiders and Ken Stabler were, look at this stat.   In Stabler’s first 69 games as a regular starter for the Raiders, the Raiders were 56-13. I actually had to check the numbers 5 times to make sure they were right. That is unreal. That’s greatness.

The Stabler Kindness:

Stabler’s generation is amazing. Many times under the darkest of circumstances, they are so selfless. This is seen especially in sickness and death.  When he was sick he didn’t want to be a burden and again, was as selfless and giving as a man can be. Kenny and his family have helped countless people through the XOXO Stabler Foundation. Kenny also was amazingly giving of his time and his efforts in many charities and causes. Like most of his generation he didn’t want much fanfare and didn’t call the presses every time he helped someone. He was a great person. He never turned down a fans request to sign something or talk to him.

I often feel bad for his daughters, grand kids & his long time Partner Kim who have shown great patience with some of us loving Ken so much. They have been as caring and kind as he was. In death they also showed the selfless Stabler spirit. The Stabler family announced that his brain and spinal cord will be donated to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center to support research for degenerative brain disease in athletes. People forget that the Snake was involved in the concussion lawsuit against the NFL.

The Bond:

People often say why does it matter where the Raiders play? I always tell people outside the Oakland bay area that the Raiders are your team but they are our family.

The stories about the fans and players interactions during the glory days of the Raiders in the 70’s are of legend and will never be seen again.   The Santa Rosa area would be up all night during training camp, and many times Ken Stabler was up with them. My father actually got to drink with Mr. Stabler once in Santa Rosa when the Raiders were holding court in one of the watering holes.

People forget that during the 70’s the players weren’t getting rich off of the NFL. Many players had extra jobs and did other things to make money. Often times they would meet, work with, or become friends with the fans.   You can still see it with some of the Raiders kids and grandkids who are online still repping the silver and black.   With fans. the Raiders were not considered celebrities but literal family members.

The fans were close to the players but the most beloved player of them all was Ken Stabler. Mix part Clint Eastwood, Johnny Cash, Sammy Baugh and Part Johnny Unitas and you had Ken Stabler.

I laugh now when fans say the NFL and other teams hate the Raiders. They really have no idea what hate is. Back in the 70’s there was no internet, and there wasn’t even an ESPN. The only way to get national news on any team was to watch it on television and most news services were based on the east coast and they were extremely biased. There were times that you would get more coverage about the Jets and Yankees than you did on your local teams.  If they covered the Raiders, it usually wasn’t very positive.

The Raiders were flat out hated; by everyone; including some in the media. Since the merger Raider owner Al Davis felt screwed by the AFL and the NFL because he felt they had told him he would become their commissioner.   Al Davis from then on was a renegade and it was us against the world. The Raiders constantly had one of the best teams in the NFL and the loudest home crowd but because they never had won a Super Bowl, they were shredded in the media.

The media often said there was a reason for their apathy towards Oakland.  “The Raiders and Ken Stabler can’t win the big one; they choke in the big games; the road to the Super Bowl easily goes through Oakland; The Chokeland Raiders”; it was hard for fans at that time to take, and only a Super Bowl win would fix it.

The animosity for the Raiders was so bad that even after Stabler won the 1974 MVP trophy (and even opponents were shocked he didn’t win it in 1976); many times announcers would have to remind people during the game all the things that Stabler had accomplished. If you were west of the Mississippi in those days, you had to really fight for respect.

Stabler was Joe Montana before Montana. Montana often said Stabler was the guy he tried to be like and that was someone he looked up to. Stabler was a master at game management and his pinpoint passing accuracy was of legend.   Because the Raiders were so good he never got the credit for being as great as he was and that often bothered other players, but not Snake. Remember this was during the time where there are no HD high speed camera and videos on the sidelines, or radio transmitters in the helmets. Quarterbacks actually did call their own plays. From Stabler to John Madden, to Ron Wolf to Al Davis; they all told the media the same thing. We don’t care what the other team does; we are going to do what we do and they can’t stop us. Supreme confidence with results.

Players often have wondered how someone as great as Stabler could not be in the Hall of Fame. My friend Tim Casto who I really enjoy; founder of Raiders Homeport; reminded me of a nasty situation between Stabler and quality sports writer Bob Padecky.  There were rumors of a drug set up and most writers supported Bob and turned on Snake. Writers around the country helped ruin Stabler’s reputation and tried to keep him out of the hall of fame.  They said they did not want to be intimidated into writing fluff pieces on athletes.  Ken Stabler is still the only Super Bowl winning QB of the 1970’s not in the HOF.  He’s also the only all decade QB not to be elected into the hall.  Travesty.

I rarely get into twitter wars but I got into 2 of them yesterday. Two clueless east coast writers said Stabler wasn’t all that talented. Are you kidding me? Bear Bryant, the Alabama coaching Icon called Stabler the greatest quarterback he ever coached. John Madden said the same thing and said even today if he needed to have one quarterback for one drive, he’d pick Ken Stabler to run that drive.   Raider hater and Denver Bronco great Tom Jackson said Stabler was as good as any QB to ever play the game.

We fans are too young but what about the 1967 “Run in the Mud” Stabler did to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl when he was at Alabama? His 53 yard run was the longest of the season and is a Crimson Tide legend. The Sea of Hands game; the Holy Roller; Ghost to the Post and the countless other games that he lead comebacks in. In fact if the call were reversed, Stabler would have won the game in the Immaculate Reception fiasco with his long run for a touchdown against the Steelers.

Some say Snake didn’t have the numbers but it was a different game then. The rules allowed defenders to do anything they wanted to quarterbacks and wide receivers and passing wasn’t a huge part of the game. It got so crazy with the violence that Chuck Knoll once called the Oakland Police Department to arrest Jack Tatum and George Atkinson for assault. It isn’t like today where Wide Receivers roam free skipping over the middle like school kids while QB’s can’t be touched. The numbers you see now are comical and the passing game is much easier.

Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton reiterated that yesterday on KNBR. “In fact a rule change changed the NFL.  After the 1979 Season, the NFL stopped allowing players to hit Wide Receivers after 5 yards down the field. This literally was directly attributed to George Atkinson and Jack Tatum.  This made the game much more wide open and easier for quarterbacks.”

The 70’s also was the most talented era of all time. The Steel Curtain; the Doomsday Defense; The Orange Crush; the Purple People Eaters; the No Name Defense; no era was dominated with so much talent in NFL history. There was no salary cap and teams were loaded. In one game in the 70’s between the Steelers and Raiders there were 21 future hall of fame players, owners and coaches on the field. Try naming 10 hall of famers in a game today.   I usually don’t hold grudges but I will always hold a grudge against the Hall of Fame Voting Committee for not voting the Snake in while he was still alive.

Someone close to my heart; my friend Mike Yokum; has lead a valiant effort to try and get Kenny Stabler into the Hall of Fame. Anyone reading this article hopefully will take one minute to sign his petition.

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/541/199/738/petition-to-induct-ken-stabler-into-the-pro-football-hall-of-fame/?taf_id=12432385&cid=fb_na#

“It may sound corny”, Mike said, “but Kenny’s effect on my childhood was profound. Just this week I received some signed merchandise from him. He thought of me even though he was dying. I didn’t even know he was sick. He was so giving. A man’s man to the end.”

Tim Casto also gave light on what he thought would happen in regards to the hall of fame. “He was born to be a Raider. I think this finally will be the year that he gets into the Hall of Fame. People forget that Ken was the 3rd fastest to get to 100 wins taking only 150 games. If you look only at his statistics as a Raider, they are pretty amazing. People also overlook what a kind man he was. He was very giving and did a lot through his great foundation and many other charities that he helped. The Steelers and Rooney family; the Raiders hated rivals; are actually pushing for Ken to be in the hall of fame and they have a lot of pull”.

http://xoxostablerfoundation.com/

After I sat for a few hours and just kind of wondered about things I thought to myself, what would the Snake tell me now if he were here. I then imagined Ken Stabler’s voice; a cool guy with his smooth southern accent say,

“Jim I’ve had a wonderful life; I had 3 amazing daughters that are the light of my eye and the beat of my heart; I have grandkids that make me proud every minute of the day; I played for the greatest organization and college in sports in front of the greatest fans in the world.   I have loved and lived hard. I had fun every step of my life and now I’m with my maker with no more pain or worries. So get up and go live life to the fullest and don’t worry about me.   Live it with a wink in one eye and a twinkle in the other.  I’m fine.”

final stabler

All of a sudden I smiled broadly, quickly got up and I felt like a million bucks. I walked half way up the hill, stopped and then looked up into the sky into the lights across the water. For some reason I took a picture although it was pitch black, and said out loud, “Thanks Kenny. For everything.”

Like I said. A leader and true southern gentleman to the end.