OPINION: Stern: Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher look burnt out in new CFB era


Mechanics who fixed vinyl record players decades ago were in high demand until the Walkman arrived, and those who fix smartphones eventually pushed both groups out of the way. As times change, the Darwinist theory of natural evolution prevails, ensuring things become outmoded. Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher -- who are considered two of college football’s brightest minds of the last decade -- now appear to be crotchety old men, out of touch with the times and incapable of returning to their previous peak.

While the larger-than-life circus of new Colorado head coach Deion Sanders continued to gain national attention with the team's 36-14 win over Nebraska last Saturday, both Saban and Fisher endured alarming losses indicating that they’re no longer top dogs in the game. It wasn't just that Alabama and Texas A&M lost by double-digit margins. The ugly nature of the defeats, paired with the very clear talent gap between them and their Big 12 and ACC opponents, made jumping to early conclusions effortless.

Saban and Fisher rose to prominence when student-athletes were unable to make money and didn't have as many rights. It made their authoritarian style of recruiting and coaching more widely accepted. Although the brand name associated with both individuals can garner attention from top talent around the nation, it isn't enough to bring everyone on board. Once the recognition begins to fade, both Saban and Fisher can clearly be identified as legendary coaches who're well past their primes.

Kids nowadays want to play at programs run by fully transparent truth-tellers, people they can relate to, and those with a more swaggy attitude. Thus, the ascension of Sanders and descension of others. Team-oriented approaches and recruitment pitches of belonging to something bigger than themselves worked well a decade ago. But not today. Not in 2023. Now it's about what's in it for the student-athlete, and programs must find a way to present selling points in an enticing manner that caters to the kid.

Not only do the two SEC darlings seem unwilling to make stylistic changes, but they also appear to be having a tough time accepting that they need to adjust. Ignoring background noise works up until the point when it becomes too loud to drown it out. While Saban and Fisher have gotten with the times making sure their players can profit off of NIL, they haven't been able to sell the prestige of their respective programs beyond the fact that they're iconic. It's all about what's been done lately. Texas A&M is coming off a disappointing 5-7 season, and Alabama won the Sugar Bowl but missed the College Football Playoff. Relative to expectations, those were failed campaigns.

Last year's underwhelming results didn't push Saban or Fisher squarely to the hot seat, but it put them on notice in case they come up short again this year. With upgrades like Sanders readily available, job security is gone, and around Saban and Fisher, competition levels have become tougher than ever before. Former Saban assistant and current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has risen to the nation's top spot. A revitalized Lane Kiffin has Ole Miss playing at a high level. Hugh Freeze is back running the show at Auburn. So, the two old kings of the castle no longer have the same power.

It isn't just that Kiffin and Freeze are off to 2-0 starts, or that Smart looks like the new best head coach in the entire sport. Similar to two grumpy old men arguing about an adaptation to an outdated rule in poker, Saban and Fisher simply represent a previous time. While the changing of the guard has to do with college football's new landscape, their time to hang it up is also quickly approaching. Fisher's currently in his 14th year as a Power Five head coach, while Saban -- who turns 72 in October -- is now in season 17 with Alabama. No dynasty lasts forever. The game's organically started to phase them out.

Just like Bill Belichick with the Patriots, who's reached the AFC playoffs just once without legendary quarterback Tom Brady, every stretch of dominance comes with an expiration date. These dates can also be expedited, based on performance and the progression of college football's environment. Although they want to remain cool kids on the block, Saban and Fisher will soon realize that they can either walk out on their own terms or risk becoming old geezers who overstay their welcome.

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