There's a school of thought that once the whistle blows and the first kick is in the air head coaches don't matter much, but come Monday in the BCS National Championship is that really the case? We say no, both coaches have a major roll in their respective teams, so perhaps the better question is which coach will actually have the bigger effect on the outcome of the game?
Yes, the easy answer would be Brian Kelly because he calls the offensive plays – it's hard to top that for having a bigger effect on the game. But, Nick Saban has proven that his preparation, game planning, and game day management can have just as big an effect on the outcome of a game as someone that is directly involved with every single play call on one side of the ball or the other.
Of course, there's the experience factor involved here as well, with Saban and Alabama racking up BCS National Championship frequent flyer miles like they are going out of style… (They better cash them in next season or they'll lose them, at least that's what the fine print says) and that can play a factor in some of the off the field stuff. Hell, Saban even decided to buck the trend and plant his team at the most trendy hotel right on South Beach – flying in the face of conventional wisdom that says it's best to keep your players away from trouble and potential distraction.
After two national championships at Alabama and experience last year in New Orleans I think I'll trust his judgment a little bit in this regard. I mean it has been three BCS National Championship games in four years for the Tide.
But, don't get it twisted, Brian Kelly isn't a stranger to a BCS game atmosphere either and it's not like he hasn't reached out to coaches with national championship game experience to help him in the logistical side of this one. We're not in the 1990's any more in terms of communication, that's for sure. Let's also remember he took the previously unheard of Cincinnati Bearcats to the 2009 Orange Bowl and the 2010 Sugar Bowl. Unfortunately they weren't exactly winning experiences, but this is Notre Dame he's coaching now, not Cincinnati – where everything had to align exactly right for major BCS upsets to happen.
With all of that out of the way, let's get right down to it, you know, the reason we are even talking about all of this stuff – the actual game played on Monday.
Does Nick Saban's experience as a head coach in this game really matter all that much? Not to me and here's why – He's never played Notre Dame or a Brian Kelly coached football team before. Both of these teams are unfamiliar with each other at least in terms of being on the same field so to me that negates any "experience" you have in a game like this. It's a level playing field in that regard. Once the whistle blows to start the game and the first hits are laid out, all that other crap goes out the window.
Does Brian Kelly's role as a play caller really matter that much? To me it does because he actually can effect things like tempo and making adjustments faster than what Saban can on the other side of the field. It's just a natural truth of someone that's got the headset on because he's calling plays vs. someone who's got the headset on to communicate with those making the original calls on both sides of the ball. It's one less layer of communication to go through.
Now, the question to me is how big of an advantage is that for Kelly over Saban on Monday? Put it on a scale of 1 to 10 and I'd have to call it a 7. It's very important, but it's not the complete game changer some may think it is either.
Yes, you can watch the tape, gameplan towards and away from tendencies and all of that in the lead up to it, but ultimately it's going to come down to who can execute the gameplan and make the adjustments to what the other person is doing and in that regard you could argue Saban has a bigger effect as he is know to be one of the best in game adjustment-makers in the modern game.
The one area that Nick Saban I think has a big advantage in is that he's got a better staff surrounding him. Make no mistake about it, Doug Nussmeir and Kirby Smart are two of the best coordinators in the country (they should be with the money they are making) and they are also two of the best at game day adjustments. So, you have to give Saban credit for hiring these two as coordinators and allowing them to do their job. Don't forget part of being a great head coach is also about being smart enough to allow those around you to assist you in a fashion that brings success.
At the end of the day it's hard to convince me that Kelly, one way or the other, won't have a bigger effect on the game on Monday. Either his gameplan and game day play calling on offense leads his team to victory or it leads them to epic defeat and it's hard to say that Saban can match that during Monday's game.
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