Saban vs. Harbaugh — A Vrbo Citrus Bowl battle of college football wits


This year’s Vrbo Citrus Bowl has a lot of juice.

Michigan (962 wins) and Alabama (915) rank first and fourth, respectively, as the winningest programs in college football history. They’ve met four times in bowl games, but the last matchup was 20 years ago, a 35-34 Michigan win in the 2000 Orange Bowl. And while the Crimson Tide are making their first bowl appearance outside the College Football Playoff since its inception in 2014, they’re still looking for their ninth straight 11-win season, the longest such streak in the AP poll era.

“Michigan is an iconic program with great tradition,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said this week. “I think if you would’ve said 50 years ago to your grandmother, ‘Is Michigan-Alabama a big game?’ They’d say, ‘Yeah, it’s a big game.’ So it’s a big game.”

But off the field, Saban and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh are two of the most visible coaches in the country. They’re lightning rods for different reasons. Saban is a fiery competitor who won’t hesitate to let you know where you stand. Harbaugh just does things a little differently.

Before Wednesday’s kickoff (1 p.m., ABC/ESPN App), let’s take a moment to remember a few highlights from the two coaches’ recent history that prove they’re two of the most interesting personalities in sports.

The Judge Judy appreciator logs on

Harbaugh has appeared on Judge Judy’s television court show as an audience member with his father, Jack. He has been vocal about his fondness for her and took to Twitter to congratulate her on a new contract extension and later, to support her nomination to the highest court in the country.

Quite the visual

You know you can pencil in a Saban rant for sometime early in the season or in mid-November when Alabama is playing a struggling non-Power 5 or FCS team. He’ll get it in his mind that everyone is overlooking the opponent, and he’ll explode. And no explosion was more jaw-dropping than the one in November 2015 before his team was set to play Charleston Southern. Saban was asked a rather innocuous question about Bucs quarterback Austin Brown, and he described Brown as a “really good player” who “does a really good job with his offense” before he went wildly off course. Saban told reporters that people take games like this for granted and just assume the younger guys will play. Then he harked back to a game a few years earlier against Georgia Southern and how poorly his NFL-laden defense played against the triple-option. “You all don’t remember the Georgia Southern game, do you? … They ran through our ass like s— through a tin horn, man, and we could not stop them.”

Speaking of unwanted visuals

Very early in Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan, he was asked about his first spring practice at Michigan and what he was expecting. Harbaugh replied by saying spring practice was like coming out of your mother’s womb, that you are now out in the chaos. While technically it is an apt comparison, it’s probably not the comparison people were looking for.

Harbaugh’s wild West

Remember back when satellite camps were a thing? Who can forget Harbaugh running around shirtless in Prattville, Alabama? Before regulation was imposed and the whole concept of far-flung camps generally fizzled out, it was the topic of college football as Harbaugh and his Michigan staff hit the road during the summer, brazenly parking themselves in the SEC’s backyard in an attempt to reach recruits. Saban was asked about it time and time again in the beginning, until he finally got animated during the SEC’s spring meetings in 2016. He tried to steer the conversation away from any one coach, saying, “I’m not blaming Jim Harbaugh. I’m not saying anything about him.” But Harbaugh was the face of satellite camps, and here was Saban exclaiming, “I’m just saying it’s bad for college football.” The roughly five-minute examination of the pitfalls of satellite camps included Saban pounding the podium at one point and lamenting all the unintended consequences of such recruiting events, calling them the “wild, wild West — at its best.” Not much later, Harbaugh fired back at Saban with this tweet.

The in-home visits

Harbaugh hasn’t done anything too odd in recent years on the recruiting trail, but he came out swinging when he was hired. He made a ton of headlines when he decided to take recruiting rules as literally as possible. With in-home visits, Harbaugh realized his visit with a prospect didn’t end until he left, so he decided to spend the night at the homes of both defensive lineman Connor Murphy and kicker Quinn Nordin. He received a welcome from one of Nordin’s neighbors in the form of a sign reminding him of the Spartans’ win in the Michigan-Michigan State game.


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