Best, worst coaches to face in playoff

Most coaches don't want to see Nick Saban on the other sideline in a playoff game. Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The question posed in recent weeks to several college head and assistant coaches was a straightforward one: In the coming playoff, which big-name head coach would you least like to see across from you on the other sideline? Who presents the toughest matchup, based on coaching style?

And, conversely, which coach would you most like to see? Who would be an instant mismatch in your favor?

I was reminded by one coach last week that the head coach’s role has evolved in the past couple of decades. Yes, the head coach (for the most part) still has final say and influence, but many of the personnel and scheme decisions -- even on game days -- are made by coordinators and appointed assistants.

Still, head coaches are the iconic characters in the game. They’re the ones whose images will be seen most often when the playoff begins this fall. And they’re the ones who will likely shoulder the blame and receive the credit.

Other coaches don’t want to see ...

1. Nick Saban, Alabama

Well, of course Saban is No. 1. On the record, another coach once called him the devil. Off the record, peers have called him much worse.

But that’s respect. Respect and some envy. Other coaches might not do the job like Saban if they had the chance, but they sure would sign up for his career record and contract.

“It’s a recruiting thing. They have better players than just about every team every year,” one coach told me last week. “And they really do develop well. When they miss on a guy -- and they’ve missed some; everyone does -- they have two more ready to go. That’s harder to do than people realize. It is where we are, anyway.”

Saban took Alabama to three BCS title games, and it won all three. LSU won in its only title-game appearance during his tenure there.

“In big games, games that really matter, they’ve been damn hard to beat,” another coach added. “He gets them focused and prepares them very well.”