Weekly Wednesday Standout #16: Chip Kelly and Nick Saban – Disruption vs. Tradition

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Nick Saban won his third BCS National Championship in four years on Monday, leading Alabama to a dominant 42-14 victory over Notre Dame. This raised questions as to whether Saban is the greatest college coach of all time. Saban’s team is built on traditional ideas of football. He has no gimmicks. The dominant defense sets the tone. Alabama wins by executing basic things better than any team in the country. Alabama is not only the best team in the country, but often the most individually talented, as they had four picks in the first round from last year’s draft. Saban teams are difficult to gameplan against as the main key to beating his teams is to be better than his team. With five star recruits and classes regularly in the top 3, Saban’s battles are already won long before the game is played. His style is not based on footballing trends of the moment – his style is based on his faster, stronger, more dynamic, more athletic, mentally tougher 11 out-executing its slower, weaker opponent.

Earlier in the day, Chip Kelly passed on NFL coaching offers and returned to his position as head coach of the Oregon Ducks. Chip Kelly’s speed spread offense has been dissected, poeticized, and romanticized (the spread offense is the closest thing college football has to a disruptive technology – FCS champion Appalachian State upsetting then number 5 ranked Michigan showed how smaller schools could punch above their weight). It’s influenced footballing elite from Jon Gruden to Bill Belichick, who implemented ideas into the Patriots high scoring team this season. His efficient way of running practices took on a life of its own. Kelly, with the mantra “win the day”, is as close to a new age guru as it gets in football. This combined with Oregon’s jerseys and relationship with Nike created a cool all its own. If Saban’s ideas are derived from the fixed tradition of Coke, Kelly is Apple. And on Monday, he returned to University of Oregon for another season.

Saban and Kelly are similar in their meticulous game planning, manic singular attention to football, and their control of every facet of their operation. Saban, in the football rich South, has his pick of top recruits. His teams are built with power and athleticism on both lines. Kelly, in the Northwest corner of the country, uses Oregon’s brand to appeal to speed and athleticism. He rarely has a top class, and one of his NFL ready talents was getting the most out of each player. The forever question, in business as in sport, is one of sustainability. Can Kelly’s innovations unlock a key in Saban’s recruiting? Or is better just…better? Saban made it clear he doesn’t aspire to Kelly’s approach.With Alabama and Oregon early Vegas favorites to make the BCS title in 2014, this is the social media age played out on the field.

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