Why Urban Meyer is a better coach than Nick Saban.

Big news in the college football world has hit the last couple weeks. Ohio State head coach and three-time national champion, Urban Meyer, is set to retire from the coaching ranks after the Rose Bowl against Washington January 1st. For all of you college football fans, you already know the impact he has had on the sport for the last 17 years.

  • 3 National Championships (First winner of the College Football Playoff)
  • 186–32 all time record (.853 winning percentage)
  • Some of the greatest players in college football history (Tim Tebow, Ezekiel Elliot, Braxton Miller, Percy Harvin)
  • 11–3 Bowl Record

In the modern era of college football, Urban and Nick Saban have been the gold standard of college football coaches. They are one and two no question. With success in so many places for both coaches (Alabama, Utah, Florida, LSU, Ohio State), there have always been arguments for who is the better coach. Most people will say that Nick Saban is easily better than Urban Meyer; he has six national titles versus Meyer’s three. While this a valid argument to make, you also have to consider that Gene Chizik has a national championship while Jim Harbaugh, Chris Petersen, and Lincoln Riley (not yet) don’t have one. For this sake alone, there are other important factors to consider.

To complete my analysis on who is a better overall head coach, I compared their standings in five important coaching criteria.

  • Winning percentage and records in big time games
  • Head to head results
  • Player development and creating NFL talent
  • Program turnaround
  • Coaching development (coaching tree)

#1: Winning percentage and records in big time games

Urban Meyer

  • 186–32 overall .853 win pct
  • 11–3 bowl record
  • 2–1 in CFP
  • 3–0 in National Championship games (Avg margin of victory by 19 points)
  • 5–2 in Conference Championship Games (2–1 at Florida, 3–1 at Ohio State)
  • 7–0 vs Michigan

Nick Saban

  • 236–62 overall .791 win pct
  • 13–9 bowl record
  • 5–2 in CFP
  • 6–1 in National Championship games (Avg margin of victory 13.3 points)
  • 8–1 in Conference Championship Games (2–0 at LSU, 6–1 at Alabama)
  • 8–4 vs Auburn

Edge: Urban Meyer. This is a close one to me, but I’ll give the edge to Urban. With a higher overall win percentage, higher margin of victory in National Championships, and an undefeated record against his biggest rival, I take Urban here.

#2: Head to head results

Overall 2–2

Meeting #1: (Dec 6, 2008 — SEC Championship)

#2 Florida 31, #1 Alabama 20

Meeting #2: (Dec 5, 2009 — SEC Championship)

#2 Alabama 32, #1 Florida 13

Meeting #3: (Oct 10, 2010)

#1 Alabama 31, #7 Florida 6

Meeting #4: (January 1, 2015 CFP Playoff Semifinal — Sugar Bowl)

#4 Ohio State 42, #1 Alabama 35

Edge: Nick Saban. It’s hard to overlook the two ass beatings Meyer took at Florida in 2009 and 2010. Margin of victory matters here in a split series.

#3: Player development and creating NFL talent

One of the biggest goals of any successful college coach is developing NFL talent. When I mean NFL talent, I don’t mean guys that were drafted in the early rounds. I’m talking NFL players that have been successful in the pro’s regardless of where they were drafted. Guys like Trent Richardson, Eli Apple, and Dee Milliner don’t apply here. I created a starting depth chart of the most successful NFL players that both coaches have developed over the years.

Offense:

QB- Alex Smith, Utah

HB- Ezekiel Elliot, Ohio State

HB- Mark Ingram, Alabama

WR- Julio Jones, Alabama

WR- Michael Thomas, Ohio State

TE- Jordan Reed, Florida

T- Marcus Gilbert, Florida

G- Andrew Norwell, Ohio State

C- Maurkice Pouncey, Florida

G- Mike Pouncey, Florida

T- Andrew Whitworth, LSU

Notables: Amari Cooper (Bama), Cam Newton (Florida for a year), Alvin Kamara (Bama for a year), Percy Harvin (Florida), Derrick Henry (Bama), Taylor Decker (Ohio State)

Defense:

DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State

DT: Marcell Dareus, Alabama

DT: Kyle Williams, LSU

DE: Carlos Dunlap, Florida

LB: Dont’a Hightower, Alabama

LB: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama

CB: Joe Haden, Florida

CB: Janoris Jenkins, Florida

S: Landon Collins, Alabama

S: Eric Weddle, Utah

Notables: Ha-Ha Clinton Dix (Bama), Mark Barron (Bama), Eddie Jackson (Bama), Reggie Nelson (Florida), Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State), Denzel Ward (Ohio State)

Edge: Urban Meyer. Urban has produced more successful offensive line prospects and one of the more underrated quarterbacks since 2000. Saban has produced high draft picks year after year but most of his successes are seen on the defensive side of the ball.

#4: Program Turnaround

Another important factor to consider when comparing the two is the state of the program before the coach arrived there. Let’s take a look at the school’s both coaches have worked at over the years. The major factor I am looking at is adjust win total which accounts the record of the team the season before the coach arrived compared across their average number of wins each season.

Urban Meyer:

#1: Bowling Green (2001–2002)

  • 2–9 record the year before
  • 8–3 and 9–3 records in two years (Avg 8.5 wins a season)
  • +6.5 adjusted win total

#2: Utah (2003–2004)

  • 5–6 record the year before
  • 10–2 and 12–0 records in two years (Avg 11 wins a season)
  • +6.0 adjusted win total

#3: Florida (2005–2010)

  • 7–5 record the year before
  • 9–3, 13–1, 9–4, 13–1, 13–1, and 8–5 record in six years (Avg 10.83 wins a season)
  • +3.33 adjust win total

#4: Ohio State (2012–2018)

  • 6–7 record the year before
  • 12–0, 12–2, 14–1, 12–1, 11–2, 12–2, and 12–1* record in seven years (Avg 12.14 wins a season)
  • +6.14 adjusted win total

*= Current Season

Nick Saban

#1: Toledo (1990)

  • 6–5 record the year before
  • 9–2 record in one year
  • +3 adjusted win total

#2: Michigan State (1995–1999)

  • 5–6 record the year before
  • 6–5–1, 6–6, 7–5, 6–6, 9–2 record in five years (Avg 6.8 wins a season)
  • +1.8 adjusted win total

#3: LSU (2000–2004)

  • 3–8 record the year before
  • 8–4, 10–3, 8–5, 13–1, 9–3 record in five years (Avg 9.6 wins a season)
  • +6.6 adjust win total

#4: Alabama (2007–2018)

  • 6–7 record the year before
  • 2–6, 12-2, 14-0, 10–3, 12–1, 13–1, 11–2, 12–2, 14–1, 14–1, 13–1, 13–0* record in eleven years (Avg 12.7 wins a season)
  • +6.7 adjusted win total

*=Current Season

Edge: Urban Meyer. Based upon the four different coaching jobs that each of the two have had, Urban’s average adjusted win total is +5.5. Nick Saban’s average adjusted win total is +4.5. This essentially means that team’s coached by Urban have averaged five and a half more wins than the previous coaches last season. Nick Saban led teams have averaged four and a half more wins.

#5: Coaching development (coaching tree)

Both coaches have developed successful head coaches from their former assistants, and it is an important criteria to value when deciding the better coach head to head. Let’s look at the top three head coaches that came for Urban’s and Saban’s coaching tree.

Urban’s Top Three:

#1: Dan Mullen (Mississippi State and Florida)

  • 78–49 Overall Record
  • 2014 SEC Coach of The Year
  • Led Mississippi State to a #1 ranking in 2014

#2: Tom Herman (Houston and Texas)

  • 38–14 Overall Record
  • Led Houston to 13–1 record in 2015
  • Led 2018 Texas team to Big XII Championship and Sugar Bowl Appearance

#3: Kyle Whittingham (Utah)

  • 120–60 Overall Record
  • 2008 Winner of Paul “Bear” Bryant Award (Coach of the Year)
  • Led Utah to 13–0 season in 2008

Saban’s Top Three:

#1: Jimbo Fisher (Florida State and Texas A&M)

  • 2013 BCS National Champion
  • 3x ACC Champion (2012–2014)
  • Coached Jameis Winston to 2013 Heisman Trophy

#2: Kirby Smart (Georgia)

  • 32–9 Overall Record
  • 2017 SEC Champion and SEC Coach of the Year
  • 2018 College Playoff Player Runner Up

#3: Mark Dantonio (Michigan State)

  • 125–67 Overall Record
  • 3x Big Ten Champion (2010, 2013, 2015)
  • 2x Big Ten Coach of the Year (2010, 2013)

Edge: Saban. Jimbo is already established as one of the best coaches in college football today, and Kirby is well on his way to that as well. Kirby is widely seen as the best recruiter in all of college football, bringing a record 2018 class to Georgia that included ten five-star recruits.

Final Analysis:

Winning percentage and records in big time games (Urban)

Head to head results (Saban)

Player development and creating NFL talent (Urban)

Program turnaround (Urban)

Coaching development and coaching tree (Saban)

Overall Edge: Urban Meyer. Urban has created more successful NFL players, shown up more consistently in big games, and has turned around programs at a higher win capacity than Nick Saban.

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-JP