Names Change...Game's Same
The greatest rivalry in college football is without question the annual Auburn - Alabama game. It is known around the country as the "Iron Bowl." The game was just another game when the Alabama State Legislature passed legislation that would force the two schools to renew the rivalry after being dormant for four decades. So, in 1948 Auburn and Alabama began playing again in Birmingham's Legion Field. Alabama won the first game. Auburn won the second.
Then Alabama reeled off four straight wins under Coach Harold "Red" Drew, who had succeeded the great Coach Frank Thomas. Alabama's dominance ended in 1954 in the fourth year of Auburn's rebuilding program under Coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan. Alabama's loss to Auburn in '54 resulted in the firing of "Red" Drew, a rather successful coach for seven years. However, Coach Jordan had been gaining on Alabama since he was hired at Auburn in 1951. Alabama hired one of its greatest linemen, Coach J. B. "Ears" Whitworth, who was Coach Bud Wilkinson's line coach at Oklahoma. Under Wilkinson, Oklahoma had the most successful program in the country in the early fifties. Excitement was tempered in Tuscaloosa. Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant had turned the job down. He was successfully building a powerhouse at Texas A&M and getting rich through the oil industry in Texas. Coach Whitworth could not stem the tidal wave that Coach Jordan created at Auburn.
Jordan's Auburn teams dominated Whitworth's Alabama for three years ending in a 40-0 Auburn win in 1957, culminating a 10-0 season and Auburn's first national championship. The embarrassing loss to Auburn opened the eyes and pocketbooks of the Alabama alumni. That game changed the football landscape in America forever. Auburn would continue to be a national power, but Alabama would never be the same.
Enter "Coach Bryant," by whom every Alabama coach is still measured. Whatever hurdles had been in place in the effort to hire Bryant in 1954 were quickly removed. Life at Alabama and at Auburn changed in the spring of 1958. Coach Bryant signed the best recruiting class in Alabama history. This class became the foundation for many Alabama victories over the next four years including the 1961 National Championship.
For 25 years Coach Bryant would battle Auburn. For 25 years Coach Jordan battled Alabama. Nine times Coach Jordan would walk off Legion Field as the winner. Only six times would Coach Bryant walk off Legion Field as a loser. The battles between "Bear" and "Shug" became headlines for the national media. They were actually good friends off the field. Coach Jordan beat "Bear" more than any other coach. "Shug beat "Bear" five times in eighteen years. "Bear" won thirteen times over "Shug" during the same period. Football in Alabama has just not been as much fun as it was when these two roamed the sidelines in Tuscaloosa, Auburn and the "Football Capitol of The South" - Legion Field.
Coach Jordan is responsible for the game being called the "Iron Bowl". During a year when Auburn was not invited to a bowl (there were only eight bowls then), a reporter asked "Shug" if he was concerned about not being invited to a bowl. He replied, "No, not really. We're going to the biggest bowl of all, the 'Iron Bowl' in Birmingham".
There is some hope that those good old days could return in another format. Coach Nick Saban has won three national championships at Alabama in eight years at the helm in Tuscaloosa. Coach Gus Malzahn has played for and lost one national championship in only two years at the helm in Auburn. Only time will tell if these two outstanding coaches will take on the "Bear" versus "Shug" personna. There will always be the Auburn-Alabama rivalry. But, will we someday talk about Nick versus Gus? It would really be great to have that back story everyday in Alabama again. There will be "Football 365" anyway. Why not Nick versus Gus?
Coach Bryant and Coach Jordan basically had the same football philosophy. Have a good kicking game, play ferocious defense, have a good fullback, run behind a strong offensive line, have a quarterback that won't get you beat, throw when you can and punt on third down if you need to–and WIN. That they did.
Coach Saban and Coach Malzahn have somewhat different offensive philosophies. Saban's offensive philosophy has been close to that of Jordan and Bryant. He really wants a dominant offensive line and a power back, only using a fullback occasionally. He also is more prone to throwing the football than Bryant and Jordan, except for the Scott Hunter years and the Pat Sullivan years. Coach Saban's defensive philosophy is very close to that of Bryant and Jordan. He wants to just dominate the opposition with great defense. He is now becoming more and more interested in the passing game.
Coach Malzahn has an offensive philosophy much different from Coach Saban. Malzahn wants to run 80 plays per game as fast as he can, using no huddle and the "read option" as the basis of his offense. This requires more decision making after the snap by the quarterback, which can often result in mistakes. His philosophy is that even with occasional mistakes, his offense will out score your defense despite these mistakes. Most of the time the mistakes are not evident. They are covered up by outstanding talent making a good play out of a bad play. He wants to dominate you with the run, but is not hesitant to "sling it" down field. He can adjust to his talent and will. Expect more passing in 2015. He will not abandon the read option, so look for another thousand yard rusher. After only three years as a head coach, it is difficult to analyze Gus's defensive philosophy. This will be more evident in 2015 with the hiring of Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator. So, the Malzahn-Muschamp (M&M) boys will roll out a new plan in 2015.
It is this writer's opinion that the State of Alabama is in for a real football treat in 2015 when the offensive coordinator at Alabama, Lane Kiffin, goes up against the defensive co-ordinator at Auburn, Will Muschamp.
The game won't be in Legion Field this year where "Bear" and "Shug" shined. This one will be in Jordan-Hare Stadium on the Plains of Auburn.
My prediction – The team that punts on third down will win!