It’s difficult beating Nick Saban once. Good luck beating him two times in a row. Hugh Freeze gets his shot to join an exclusive club when Ole Miss visits Alabama this Saturday.
Les Miles and Steve Spurrier each beat Saban in consecutive games. That’s it. That's the entire list during Saban’s 14-year SEC career.
When it comes to revenge games, no elite coach in SEC history wins them quite like Saban. He doesn't just win them; he often dominates them. Saban is 18-2 in rematches as an SEC coach -- 9-1 at Alabama and 9-1 at LSU -- and has won these contests by an average of two touchdowns.
I’m defining “revenge games" or "rematch games” as contests between the same teams following a loss that occurred either in the same year or the following season. Intervals of two or more years between games aren’t counted.
In 2010, Miles coached circles around Saban in LSU’s 24-21 victory over Alabama, using a fake punt, a reverse to the tight end on fourth-and-short, a long touchdown pass, a two-point conversion, and a critical long third-down conversion for the win. Miles got Saban again in the 2011 regular season with a 9-6 victory. Saban got the last laugh by beating LSU 21-0 for the 2011 national championship and has won four in a row over Miles.
More than a decade ago, Spurrier’s Gators stomped Saban’s LSU teams 41-9 in 2000 and 44-15 in 2001. After those losses, Saban won 12 straight rematch games -- and some of them were crippling.
Georgia dressed in black in 2008 and got blacked out in its rematch loss to Saban. Tommy Tuberville got fired after his rematch loss that same year. Urban Meyer went to the hospital and temporarily resigned after his Saban revenge loss in 2009. Gene Chizik got pounded by four touchdowns to Saban in 2011 and was fired a year later.
Lately, the rematches are getting tougher for Saban. Football has changed. Scoring is all the rage. Texas A&M beat Alabama in 2012 and lost only 49-42 in 2013. Auburn beat Alabama in 2013 and lost only 55-44 in 2013. Ole Miss beat Alabama 23-17 last season and is averaging more than 70 points per game against some nondescript 2015 opponents so far.
Still, Saban’s ability to win revenge games is unprecedented among the SEC’s greatest coaches. Saban ranks 11th all-time for victories at an SEC school during the conference's existence, yet he is the only one of those top 11 coaches with a better winning percentage in rematches than his overall mark. Saban wins 81 percent of all of his games, but he's 90 percent in rematches.
|SEC Victories Leaders in Revenge Games|
|Coach, School||Career Win%||Revenge Win%||Margin in Rematches|
|Nick Saban, LSU/Alabama||.805||.900||+13.6 points|
|Robert Neyland, Tennessee||.829||.750||+8.7 points|
|Vince Dooley, Georgia||.715||.714||+6.5 points|
|Bear Bryant, Kentucky/Alabama||.797||.679||+8.3 points|
|Mark Richt, Georgia||.742||.667||+5.2 points|
|John Vaught, Ole Miss||.748||.613||+3.5 points|
|Shug Jordan, Auburn||.675||.571||+0.1 points|
|Steve Spurrier, Florida/South Carolina||.740||.550||+2.4 points|
|Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee||.745||.500||-0.3 points|
|Charlie McClendon, LSU||.692||.487||-2.7 points|
|Wallace Butts, Georgia||.615||.395||-4.1 points|
Saban was only 7-7 in revenge games at Michigan State. But he went 5-2 in his brief two-year NFL career with the Miami Dolphins, including two rematch wins over the New England Patriots while Saban coached an average Dolphins team. That leaves Saban with a 30-11 record as a head coach in revenge games.
If Freeze joins Miles and Spurrier in the exclusive club, it will mark the first time Freeze has beaten an SEC coach two years in a row. (Ole Miss beat Arkansas back-to-back in 2012-13 and Vanderbilt in 2013-14, but each opponent had two different coaches.)
Ole Miss certainly has the talent to beat Alabama again, but history suggests it’s easier said than done against Saban, who often draws blood when seeking revenge.