Alabama's Nick Saban focuses on doing well, not only winning

ASSOCIATED PRESS Alabama's Nick Saban discusses BCS final win at news conference.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Alabama's Nick Saban discusses BCS final win at news conference.
Posted: January 09, 2013

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Nick Saban swears that it's not about him.

Of course, it is.

Yes, you have to have special players doing difference-making things, especially when they need to the most. Which means they have to buy in, big-time, because lots of college football teams have talent, especially in the Southeastern Conference, which has now won the last seven national titles. The last two, and three of the last four, have been claimed by Alabama (13-1), which undressed previously unbeaten Notre Dame, 42-14, on Monday night at Sun Life Stadium in the BCS final.

Two others have been won by teams that play in the Crimson Tide's division. So what separates them from the rest of the food chain, because nobody has repeated before in the BCS era, and only Nebraska in the mid-1990s had gone 3-for-4 in the last six-plus decades?

The year before Saban arrived in 2007, the Tide went 6-7 under Mike Shula. Alabama had played in one major bowl (the 1999 Orange) since Gene Stallings led the Tide to its last national title in 1992. Saban's first team went 7-6. Alabama has lost seven times since then.

So what's next? A move to the NFC East?

"I know there's a lot of questions about how do you celebrate this," Saban said at a Tuesday morning news conference in which he got to pose with a slew of trophies. "In thinking about it, I really hope that we all appreciate what we accomplished and understand what it took to accomplish it, rather than just revel and marvel in what we did, because if you appreciate something and understand what it took, I think that you may be more committed to what you need to do in the future to continue to be successful.

"Every opponent that we play next year will certainly have it targeted on their schedule to beat us, so we'll have a lot of challenges for ourselves. And the team that we have next year is 0-0."

But it will start the season atop the polls, although you can see what it did for Southern California. The Tide started this season No. 2. For the second straight year, it lost a home game in November. Last January, it won this game, 22-0, in a rematch with Louisiana State, where Saban also won a title in 2003.

Nobody has ever threepeated in the poll era, which goes back to the Great Depression. The odds are not in Alabama's favor, for all the obvious reasons. But at this point, who would bet against it? Still, this stuff isn't easy. Saban's just making it look that way. And there really doesn't seem to be too much anyone, especially outside the SEC, can do about it.

"I think each year is a little bit different," Saban said. "I think each team is a little bit different. But the formula for what we do is pretty much the same."

The pieces change. But the most important thing remains constant. Because it doesn't just happen. Everyone else has to get the cue from somewhere.

"I mean, I think our players actually believe that we work harder," he explained. "We're more physical because of the way we practice, that we practice good on good to challenge them to be the best they can be, and in doing that we sort of establish the intangibles, the effort, the toughness, the discipline to execute against a quality person. I mean, that's the purpose for doing it, whether it's the offseason program, spring practice, summer conditioning . . . I think our players pride themselves on that."

Saban is the fourth coach to get four rings. He needs two more to catch Bear Bryant. He's not planning on going anywhere.

"This is where I belong," he bristled, when asked once again whether he ever plans on giving the NFL another try.

By Wednesday, he'll already be trying to figure out 2013. That's what fuels him. Maybe it's why he doesn't wear any of his rings.

"I just put them on the coffee table for the recruits to look at," he said, smiling.

This, for a guy who can turn down five-star recruits.

"I showed them a film of Michael Jordan saying everybody thinks the first championship is the hardest, but it's really the next one," Saban said. "Because you have to have the will to fight against yourself, because you've already won one. And he was able to win six . . .

"Almost every game in the SEC is a game you could lose. So you can't play up-and-down, or you're going to have problems. Georgia [which Alabama beat in the SEC final] is five yards away from being here."

That's how fragile the line can be. In the 2014-15 season, there will be a four-team playoff. Some think that will enhance the SEC's chances. Saban isn't as convinced.

"I just don't know," he said. "We've already had a playoff in the SEC. We played in the SEC championship game three times. Played Florida twice, we were [ranked] 1-2. Played Georgia this year, we were 2-3. Now if you're going to have that game and play those teams to get in the Final Four, we may be eliminating a team. If we have that scenario, a team that would have been in the Final Four may not after they lose that game, which I think would be incredibly unfair, especially if every other conference doesn't have a championship game to play in.

"You shouldn't be able to sneak your way in. If we're going to have to play our way in, let's play our way in, everybody."

But when does it ever make sense at this level?

The one certainty is, whatever the equation, Alabama should continue to be a serious factor. The guy in charge wouldn't settle for anything less. Even if it's not about him.

"The self-gratification comes from the accomplishment itself," Saban said. "We don't really kind of need to wear a ring and go like this [flash it], so everybody says look what I've got. That's just not my style. If you're going to be a street sweeper, sweep the streets like Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, like Shakespeare wrote literature. Do the best there is in life, no matter what you choose. It really doesn't matter. Because there's no better feeling. When I worked for Bill Belichick [with the Cleveland Browns] he had one sign in the building. It said, 'Do your job.' It's not all about results."

But it sure doesn't hurt.

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