The program that Saban built

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere.

During LSU's gut-wrenching 20-13 overtime loss to Alabama on Nov. 8, loud chants rained down from the student section, and they were directed at that Crimson Tide head coach we all know so well.

The students had one simple message for him. They yelled, "F*** you, Saban!"

It's no shock by now, many LSU fans would love to say those words to his face. Many might opt to do more than just pepper him with obscenities. But in reality, it's time for Tiger fans to just get over it and instead of saying, "F*** you, Saban," they should just tell him, "thank you."

No, I'm not part of the dreaded "PC Police" and no, I wasn't offended by what I heard during the game.

However, I feel the same way about it now as I did when the students were constructing such chants back when I was a member of the section. It's classless, juvenile and just plain embarrassing. It makes the school look horrible.

What makes the attack even more egregious is the fact that Tiger fans have continued to spit in the face of a man that resurrected the LSU football program.

Look around you. Look at that 102,000-seat stadium. Look at all those SEC Championship and BCS bowl trophies. Take a look at the two crystal balls. Let it all sink in and then realize that if not for Nick Saban, all of it would be an unattainable fantasy.

People have such short memories; I don't. I remember what Baton Rouge was like before Saban took the reigns.

I remember 4-7 seasons. I remember getting walloped in Tiger Stadium by 34 points. I remember getting excited when LSU actually cracked the top 25. I remember when a celebration was in order when the Tigers made a bowl game.

Before that evil little man came to Baton Rouge, LSU was a middle-of-the-road program--the definition of mediocrity. It was continuously restricted by a glass ceiling--a ceiling that kept them out of any serious national championship contention.

In the 10 years prior to Saban's arrival, LSU endured seven losing seasons and an overall record of 54-59-1.

They won three bowl games and no SEC titles. Against their three big SEC rivals--Auburn, Florida and Alabama--they were just 6-22. They were 2-8 against the Tide and 1-9 against the Gators.

Against ranked opponents, they were a putrid 9-30.

Saban came in and drastically changed the culture. He instantly made them contenders.

In his five years there, LSU went 48-16, won two SEC titles, two BCS bowls and their first national championship in 45 years.

Against ranked opponents, they went 10-8, and they were 8-7 against their big three SEC rivals--including a 4-1 mark against Alabama.

The turning point for the program seemed to come in Saban's first season in Baton Rouge. On Sept. 30, 2000, the Tigers upset 11th-ranked Tennessee in a thrilling overtime affair, 38-31.

Just three weeks later, Tiger Stadium saw another wild upset win as LSU knocked off 13th-ranked Mississippi State in overtime. And to end the year, the Tigers ended their two-game skid against Alabama as they beat them 30-28 in Baton Rouge.

Those three games brought back the mystic that Tiger Stadium once had but had lost in the '90s. Saban breathed new life into Death Valley.

The proof is in the pudding. In the 10 years prior to his arrival, LSU was a very ordinary 34-27 in Tiger Stadium. In the 14 years after he was hired, the Tigers were virtually unbeatable--bolstering an amazing record of 89-13.

Saban might have left 10 years ago, but the powerhouse program that you see today, it has his fingerprints all over it.

That national title LSU won back in 2007, almost every single starter was recruited by Saban.

He built the foundation in his five years in Baton Rouge. He put the Tigers back in the spotlight and made it the attractive destination that it is today for all of those big-time recruits.

In the 14 years after Saban's arrival, LSU went 142-40, won four SEC titles, nine bowl games, two national championships, never endured a season with less than eight wins and won at least 10 games seven times.

They were 46-28 against ranked opponents and 25-18 combined against Auburn, Florida and Alabama.

It's one of the premier football programs in the country, and Tiger Stadium is routinely hailed as the best stadium in America. It's hard to see any of that taking place if not for Nick Saban.

But LSU fans continue to lash out at him like jaded lovers due to his departure in 2004.

Saban didn't leave to coach at Alabama; he left to coach in the NFL--where his coaching career really took off.

He went there for two years and realized he had made a huge mistake. He desperately wanted to go back to college.

Enter Alabama. They offered him a king's ransom, and he took it. Anybody that says they wouldn't have done the same is lying to themselves.

I'm not telling LSU fans to like Nick Saban. He doesn't have the coziest of personalities, and he does coach for the Tigers' hated rivals.

But they should respect him enough not to become ungrateful idiots devoid of class---shouting loud obscenities his way.