Jimbo boats the Saban whale
Don't get defensive, Kirby Smart. Put down the popcorn and pay attention, Lane Kiffin. Jimbo Fisher has boated your white whale. As a former Nick Saban assistant, you finally have a blueprint on how to beat the old boss.
You have proof that it can be done because it has been done by the unlikely count of unranked Texas A&M 41, No. 1 Alabama 38. The mini-hes, wannabes, saplings and saps from the Saban coaching tree are now 1-24 against him. All it took to end the shutout was an unconventional process as crazy as 1-2-3.
Lose your starting quarterback to an injury before facing the next Crimson Tide QB on the NFL assembly line. Smart was onto something on this point a year ago, at least for a half, with Stetson Bennett IV. A&M's previously unimpressive QB2, Zach Calzada, delivered a near-perfect Stephen Garcia impression in the first half and a close-to-perfect final 5 minutes to secure the game's final 10 points. No one saw that coming, least of all the crimson defense.
Lose two straight games before meeting No. 1 Alabama to lace the rat poison with arsenic. Kiffin made the colossal mistake of coming for the king but coming up short in 2020, and he got microwaved for it last week. Fisher was savvy enough previously to roll over at Saban's feet by 22, 19 and 28 points with Texas A&M and by 17 with Florida State. That's playing the long game to author a signature win in permanent marker.
Stop kissing the ring. Saban assistants have long been far too reverential and deferential toward him, even if, in Kiffin's case, it comes across as sarcasm. If Gus Malzahn could take down Saban three times, there's hope for you who learned at the master's knee to git-er-done at least once, but you have to speak it into existence.
Fisher has correctly pointed out through the years that he's been doubly blessed in the mentor department, having worked for two of the greatest coaches of all time in Saban and Bobby Bowden, and that his Bowden ties are far stronger. Dadgumit, he's practically a member of that family. Maybe that's why Fisher felt confident enough to tell the Houston Touchdown Club in May that A&M wouldn't have to wait till Saban retired to beat Alabama, that "we're going to beat his ass when he's there."
Mission accomplished. Not "in golf" but in honest-to-goodness American tackle football. The best way to compete with someone who has a statue is to NOT put him on a pedestal.
All shock and awe aside at Alabama's first loss since the 2019 Iron Bowl, maybe we should've seen this stumble coming as Saban foreshadowed during his Thursday radio show. Florida made the reigning national champs look beatable in September, outplaying the Crimson Tide for the final three quarters, the thin margin between defeat and overtime a missed Gator extra point. A&M took down the Tide with a dominant first half and a second half with just enough highlights to set up a final-play field goal for the field storm.
A distinct pattern has emerged in Alabama's four defeats over the last 3½ seasons. If you want to stem the Tide during its Sling Dynasty period, you have to score in the 40s. See the seasons of:
2021: Texas A&M 41, Alabama 38
2019: Auburn 48, Alabama 45
2019: LSU 46, Alabama 41
2018: Clemson 44, Alabama 16
With the exception of the Trevor Lawrence national championship debacle, Alabama scored what any reasonable observer would consider enough points to win on each occasion. But this Alabama staff isn't the 2020 staff, this offense isn't the 2020 offense and this defense isn't the 2011 defense. Let A&M run back a kickoff for a touchdown to boot, and you give Jimmy Sexton enough ammunition to make Fisher the first billion-dollar football coach.
Down goes Alabama's 100-victory streak against unranked opponents and Saban's perfect 24-0 record against former assistants. He's still the boss, but now Smart, Kiffin and every other branch of the Saban coaching tree have to feel emboldened. You'll never approach his GOATness, but for a day, you, too, can get the better of the Godfather.
Fisher did it on his 56th birthday. Hope he fully enjoyed the celebration because Saban is malevolently likely to settle all family business with him next season. In the interim, Saban has plenty of mistakes to correct with this shaky bunch but a healthy history of not wasting a failure. Five of his seven national championship teams - 2003 at LSU and 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2017 at Alabama - suffered a single defeat on the road to a ring.
Quite a year for Fisher. He paid his final respects to Bowden and earned the ultimate respect from Saban, but remember one thing. There is no guarantee that anyone else in the Saban family, Smart included, will be able to echo Jimbo's breakthrough. No more excuses, though. Now they all know it's possible.