Saban keeps focus on the immediate

  • Chris Low [ARCHIVE]
  • ESPN.com | December 26, 2012

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban spends about as much time pondering his legacy as he does kicking back and watching reality TV or perusing Internet message boards.

The bigger picture in Saban's world is the next practice, the next recruiting call, the next game.

He's the quintessential live-in-the-moment guy when it comes to his craft.

Nick Saban
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsNick Saban has given Alabama fans plenty to celebrate during his years as the Crimson Tide's coach.

"We don't too often look at the bigger picture around here," Alabama running back Eddie Lacy said with an amused chuckle.

That may be, but with Alabama bearing down on what it hopes will be its third national championship in the last four years, Saban's legacy will be the topic du jour in college football if the Crimson Tide take care of business against Notre Dame on Jan. 7 in the Discover BCS National Championship.

He's already the only coach in the Associated Press poll era (dating to 1936) to win two national championships at two different schools.

And not since Frank Leahy at Notre Dame in 1946, '47 and '49 has a coach won three outright national titles in a four-year span.

Simply put, a win in Miami would catapult Saban into rarefied air.

"I think it probably tells you that he's as good as anybody there's ever been," said former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who won two national championships himself and owns the NCAA record for the most wins by an FBS coach.

Indeed, it would be Saban's fourth national championship in the past 10 years, going back to his title at LSU in 2003.

But then, Saban's not counting. He's too busy doing all the things it takes to win championships.

"We show our team a video of Michael Jordan talking about making the game-winning shot," Saban said. "It doesn't matter how many game-winning shots he's made in the past. The only one that matters is the one he's about to take.

"That's the whole deal. Can you focus on the next shot? You're so zeroed in on the next shot that you don't have time to think about the other ones. You really don't."

It's just the way Saban is wired, and it's become one of the hallmarks of his program at Alabama.

"Human nature is to survive and be satisfied with whatever you've been able to accomplish," Saban said. "Even average is good enough for a lot of people."

Gene Stallings was the last coach to win a national championship at Alabama before Saban arrived at the Capstone in 2007. Stallings led the Crimson Tide to the 1992 national title, highlighted by a 34-13 drubbing of No. 1 Miami in the Sugar Bowl.

Well aware of the dizzying standard at Alabama, Stallings said Saban has upped the ante on that standard.

"I can't imagine anybody who's done a better job than Coach Saban," Stallings said. "He's such an outstanding recruiter, and his players play hard and play smart. It's even more remarkable what he's done when you look at all the juniors he's lost to the pros. Imagine the kind of teams they would have had if all those guys had stayed back and played another year."

In the past five years at Alabama, Saban has had eight underclassmen leave early and be selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Four of those players -- Trent Richardson, Marcell Dareus, Julio Jones and Andre Smith -- were top-10 picks.

But the talent just keeps flowing in, and Alabama All-American center Barrett Jones said there's a reason there haven't been too many misses under Saban.

"He has his own ranking system and variables that he looks for in every player, and another thing is he can afford to be pickier because a lot of people want to come here," Jones said. "I also think we draw a more competitive player. Some people don't want to come here because they don't want to play against the best every day and have to compete for a job against other really, really high recruits.

"We draw players who believe they can be the best. That's what makes us really good. There's a lot of good competition in practice and lot of talent on the 2s and 3s pushing the other guys."

The other thing that resonates about this run is that Saban has managed to do it during a time when the SEC has enjoyed unprecedented success. Alabama is attempting to make it seven straight national championships for the SEC, and three other teams from the league have won titles during that stretch.

Not only that, but six SEC teams were ranked in the top 10 of the final BCS standings this season, and four ended the season a year ago in the top 10 of the final BCS standings.

"It really is an historic accomplishment, especially to maintain the level of competitiveness they have at a time when the conference has been as strong as it's ever been," said former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, who was responsible for ushering in the BCS system in college football.

"Everybody argues for their era. You go back to what Bear Bryant was able to do at Alabama and Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma, and you have some teams that were dominant over a period of time. But in the recent history of college football, we've never seen anything like this."

With a win over the Irish, the Crimson Tide would also become the first team to repeat as outright national champions since Tom Osborne's powerhouse Nebraska teams in 1994 and '95. The Cornhuskers came back to win a share of the national title in 1997. They finished No. 1 in the USA Today coaches' poll that year, and Michigan was No. 1 in the Associated Press poll.

But no coach in the past 50 years -- not even the legendary Bryant -- has won four national titles over a 10-year span.

"You see no end to it at Alabama with the way he's recruiting," Bowden said. "But you wonder how long he can stay motivated to keep going after every victory and victory and victory. Will he stay there or go to the pros? When you've been as successful as he's been for so long, you have to be motivated to stay at that place."

Saban/Jones
Jeff Gross/Getty ImageSaban can afford to be particular about selecting his players because so many want to attend Alabama, says standout lineman Barrett Jones.

When Saban talks about the next challenge, an air of uneasiness creeps in for Alabama fans, which is understandable. The idea of losing Saban to the NFL is their worst fear.

But for Saban, the next challenge is what's right in front of him.

"You're never satisfied," he said. "Now, that doesn't mean I'm not happy. We're very happy here at Alabama, even though I keep hearing that I don't necessarily look happy.

"When you're in this profession, the fun is in the winning not all the other stuff."

And the more Saban wins, the louder the chatter becomes that he might be tempted to give the NFL another shot.

That's despite his insistence that there are no other horizons for him in coaching and that he's dug in at Alabama. The reality is that there are a lot of people in college football -- at least those not of the crimson persuasion -- who'd love nothing more than to see Saban back in the NFL.

"I don't know where all this stuff [about the NFL] comes from," Saban said. "When I say I'm looking for the next challenge, it's the next challenge here and the next challenge with our team next year here. This is where we want to be and what we're happy doing.

"It's to the point now that anything you say about this, nobody believes. So it's almost like, 'What the hell?'"

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, in his own way, offers the best insight on why Saban isn't planning to go anywhere.

"I always mess with him," McCarron quipped. "Mrs. Terry [Saban's wife] is happy here, so

"And she runs that family."

Tell us what you think!

Take Survey Now » No Thanks »