You’d be hard-pressed to find a more popular duo in the coaching spectrum than Urban Meyer and Nick Saban.
The two juggernauts of college football have each cemented their football legacy, winning a number of conference championships and national titles. And both doing so with two different programs.
After Ohio State’s improbable run through the College Football Playoff, Meyer added a third ring to his collection, inching him closer to tying Saban’s title number.
Ten conference championships and seven national titles have been credited to the two coaches. All have come since 2001 when Saban won his first SEC crown with LSU.
And to think, at one time they resided in the same conference. In the mid 2000’s it looked like the Meyer-Saban match-ups would likely determine whether Florida or Alabama would compete for a spot in the national championship game.
It had all the makings to be one of the most highly-anticipated coaching rivalries in the country.
But it never came to fruition.
When Ohio State and Alabama clashed on New Year’s Day in the Sugar Bowl, the storyline quickly highlighted the significance of each coach and their previous meetings in the SEC.
The 2015 Sugar Bowl was supposed to spark and rekindle an old rivalry and take us back to the days when the Gators and the Crimson Tide were battling for football supremacy.
Except it was never much of a rivalry in the first place.
Yes, Meyer and Saban dueled three consecutive years, twice in the SEC Championship Game and once in the regular season. And, yes, twice the winner of those games ultimately went on to claim a national championship.
But the three-year sequence wasn’t enough time to permeate the storylines necessary to develop a coaching rivalry.
The games weren’t competitive enough to create the illusion of a play-calling chess match that gives one coach the upper hand. In 2009 and 2010 meetings, the Crimson Tide won both games by a combined 44 points. In 2008, the Gators posted a 31-20 win.
Five years later, Meyer evened up his personal record against Saban when the Buckeyes took down the Tide 42-35. Though the teams were separated by a touchdown, it was a game dominated by Ohio State for the final 45 minutes.
With the progression the Buckeyes have made since Meyer has arrived in Columbus and Alabama’s continued dominance under Saban, there’s optimism that these two teams will meet with more frequency and the two best coaches in the sport will share the same field.
Had Meyer stayed with Florida, it may’ve been a more regular occurrence.
Certainly there’s no guarantee the Gators would’ve met the Tide on the field every season, especially as the schools are separated by division. The idea of these two meeting every few years in the regular season and potentially in the SEC title bout is something to lust over, though.
While the possibility of meeting in bowl games or the College Football Playoff gives college football fans hope, it still wouldn’t provide the same spark. There’s something to be said about two great coaches leading their teams in the same conference and building an intense, cross-division rivalry.
It could’ve been a continual battle for the national championship and one of the best coaching duels the sports world has ever seen. At the end of the 2015 campaign, Meyer and Saban have combined for more than 400 victories and are posting wins at a 79 percent clip.
But right now, it’s the greatest rivalry in coaching that’s never happened.
Even in the small sample sizes we may see throughout the tenures of these two goliaths, it wouldn’t compare to the monumental impact it would’ve had on the football world had Meyer stayed in Gainesville.