Nick Saban has cemented his name as one of the greatest college football coaches ever. His Alabama team has played in six of the last seven national title games and he has won six championships at Alabama and one at LSU.
But there is one person that may have been able to prevent Saban's dominance in Tuscaloosa. One player who may have altered college football's history with one simple decision.
On December 13, 2005 Tim Tebow committed to play football at Florida. After leading his high school team to its first ever state title, a game where Tebow threw for 237 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 183 and two more scores, Tebow chose to become a Gator and planned to enroll early to be on the Gainesville campus in January so he could go through a spring practice.
Tebow's choice of Florida was not a shock. He played football and baseball just a few hours from the Florida campus and his father had been a Bull Gator for years. A month before Tebow's commitment, the Gators lost quarterback commit Javon Snead, who changed his mind and committed to Texas.
Recruiting analysts believed Tebow was the perfect quarterback for Urban Meyer who had concluded his first year at Florida going 9-3.
Tebow's first season in Gainesville saw him play behind Chris Leak but used in a variety of packages that saw him pass for five touchdowns and run for eight more as the Gators won the national championship. He would go on to win the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and finished his college career as one of the best to play the position and added another national title in 2008.
But Tebow was indeed tempted to pick another school before he chose Florida. While almost everyone in the nation sought Tebow's commitment, his list of final five included Florida, Michigan, LSU, USC and........Alabama.
Then Gator offensive coordinator Dan Mullen was the one who kept working Tebow and sell him on what they had planned for him at Florida. But there was also Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula trying to convince Tebow that he would restore the pride and tradition of Alabama football and the battle was closer than people think.
Tebow connected well with Shula, who went a dismal 4-9 in his first season at Alabama in 2003. He went 6-6 the following season and then improved to 10-2 in 2005 and had the Crimson Tide inside the top 10 at the end of the season.
Shula saw Tebow as a program changer and felt he was the "it" guy that could take Alabama back to winning national titles. He worked Tebow hard on his vision for him and he used the history and tradition of Alabama in the pitch as well.
On October 1, 2005 Tebow attended the Florida-Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The Gators were ranked 5th and Alabama came in 15th and both teams were 4-0. Alabama blew out Florida 31-3. Chris Leak went 16-37 for 187 yards and 2 interceptions. Alabama's Brodie Croyle went 14-17 for 283 and three touchdown passes. Tebow came away impressed with Alabama, the stadium atmosphere and its fans:
"It was very exciting and I had a good time. Alabama has a great team and so does Florida but I don’t think anyone expected the game to be like it was. I didn’t expect a blowout either, so that surprised me but not really because I know how good Alabama was…Their fans seemed to know me and were yelling for me to come to Alabama. I didn’t know it would be like that. It was a good feeling because it made me feel wanted there. I’ve had people recognize me before but never like that."
A couple months after that visit Tebow did choose Florida and Urban Meyer. But what if he chose Alabama and Mike Shula?
John Parker Wilson was Alabama's quarterback in 2006. He threw for 2,707 yards with 17 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Alabama began the season going 3-0 before losing six of their next nine and Shula was fired after an Iron Bowl loss to Auburn. The school paid Shula $4M to buy him out. Joe Kines coached Alabama's bowl game loss in the Independence Bowl and then Nick Saban was hired as the new head coach.
No one knows what kind of career Tebow would have had if he chose Alabama, but there is also no reason to think he would not have been successful. Perhaps Shula would have chosen to play the talented freshman and ride the buzz knowing Tebow would bring some job security and Alabama had won 10 games the year before. Would Florida still have won the BCS title in 2006 without Tebow and just Chris Leak? Maybe. And what about the title in 2008?
If you really want to play the "what if" game, if Tebow had chosen Alabama would Cam Newton have become the quarterback Tebow did at Florida? He was there in 2007 and 2008. Cam was Tebow's backup at Florida in 2007. He injured an ankle early in the 2008 season and redshirted and also had his "tossing of the laptop" incident that would eventually lead to his departure from the Florida program.
If Tebow was at Alabama and won Mike Shula would have stayed as coach through, at least, 2009- Tebow's final college season. Maybe Nick Saban gets it rolling at Miami with the Dolphins and never returns to college and therefore the Alabama dynasty never happens.
We know what did happen and Tebow and the Gators were a perfect match and have two national titles to show for it. Saban did replace Mike Shula and has built one of the greatest dynasties the sport has ever seen. Cam Newton went on to win a national title at Auburn.
What about Mike Shula? Well, Saban accepted the Alabama job on January 3, 2007. On January 16, 2007, the Miami Herald reported Mike Shula was a candidate for the Miami Dolphins' job- vacated by the departure of Saban- and had interviewed twice for the job. But three days later Miami hired San Diego offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and six days later on January 25th Shula accepted the quarterback coach job with Jacksonville Jaguars. Mike Shula has been an NFL assistant since with stop additional stops in Carolina, New York(Giants), Denver and now with the Buffalo Bills.
It's a world of "what ifs" but the decision of where to play college football by Tim Tebow had lasting implications. He is one of the greatest Gators to ever play. Saban is one of the greatest coaches ever one can only wonder what would have happened if Tim chose Alabama, instead of Florida.
Final note: Then USC coach Pete Carroll wanted Tebow to replace Matt Leinart. Instead, John David Booty was under center in 2006 for the Trojans.