Paul Bryant was "Bear." Steve Spurrier is "the old ball coach." George Halas was "Papa Bear." Bill Parcells is "Big Tuna."
And Nick Saban is "Satan."
I make no claims to being an expert in human behavior, or nomenclature, or casual jocularity among Southeastern Conference gridiron enthusiasts. But of all the nicknames on earth that you could have bestowed upon you -- "Skip," "Sport," "Red," "Slim," those sorts of things -- I'd have to think that people who have known you for decades ending up landing on "Satan" is perhaps a moment for quiet reflection.
In case you missed it, Tim Davis, Florida's offensive line coach and former colleague of Saban's at both Alabama and with the Miami Dolphins, called Saban "the devil himself" at a banquet earlier this week. It was, in fact, the second time in four months an SEC rival has referred to Saban as the embodiment of pestilence; Vanderbilt coach James Franklin called him "Nicky Satan," which brings up terrifying images of this.
Saban, sort of hilariously, says he's "disappointed" to be compared to God's chief opponent in the eternal struggle for the soul of humanity. "Twice. On two occasions," Saban told AL.com. "It's just disappointing. If somebody has a problem with me, I'd appreciate it if they'd tell me." It is possible that making his primary nickname a reference to the leader of all that is base and monstrous could be considered "telling" him. But it is encouraging that Saban is "disappointed" to be known as the physical manifestation of human frailty and cruelty. That would bum me out as well.
Of course, Davis and Franklin did not create the nickname for Saban. It has, in fact, been widely considered his nickname for quite some time now, and not just by people who dislike him. Alabama fans created this T-shirt for him last year, and then there is this man's crazy tattoo.
It's mostly people who hate him, though. The Facebook group "Nick Saban is the Devil" has existed for four years now. (There's a Twitter account too.) The Huffington Post was asking "When Did Nick Saban turn into Satan?" three years ago. Tosh.0 said it. Cartoonists have fun with it. Heck, he's even born on Halloween.
Now, the main reason Nick Saban is commonly compared to the physical representation of evil in the universe is because of his last name. (This is the same reason Scottie Pippen is still known in parts of Chicago as "No Tippin' Pippen," referring to his interactions with those in the service industry. If Michael Jordan had been hesitant to ever throw anything away, he'd be known as "Hoardin' Jordan." It's a mnemonic thing.) If he were Bob Smithson, I suspect there would be far fewer comparisons to Biblical villainy. Also, there'd be a lot fewer people casting Saban as the antichrist if he weren't winning so many national championships. There is a lot of jealousy here.
Then again, it is always helpful to remember Aaron Altman's definition of what the devil would look like, from the classic film Broadcast News:
He will be attractive! He'll be nice and helpful. He'll get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation. He'll never do an evil thing! He'll never deliberately hurt a living thing... he will just bit by little bit lower our standards where they are important. Just a tiny little bit. Just coax along flash over substance. Just a tiny little bit. And he'll talk about all of us really being salesmen.
(Man, that movie is so good.)
Now, look. I want to make it clear I'm not being serious. Nick Saban is not actually an angel cast out of Heaven for betraying God. He does not exist to tempt humans into abandoning morality and submitting to their most primal animal instincts. He is not Ba'al Zabul the serpent, ruler of the demons, adversary to the righteous, tormentor of the unjust.
He is not any of those things. He is just a football coach. I see how all this could be confusing. But do not call Nick Saban "Satan." He will be very disappointed. He also might eat your soul. Probably not. But maybe.
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