With three BCS titles, Nick Saban stands alone among coaching peers
It was one of those wonderfully surreal scenes we seldom see in college football. Two years ago, standing on the field of the Rose Bowl and watching Alabama celebrate its 13th national championship -- with the band blaring and confetti falling from the clear California sky -- I marveled at the moment.
In the midst of the sea of crimson stood Terry Saban, the wife of Alabama's head coach, smiling like the high school cheerleader who was dating the star quarterback who had just won the state championship game.
I remarked to her how wonderful it must feel to add a national title at Alabama to the one her husband had won at LSU in 2003.
"Oh, it's great," she said, adding she and her husband were going to slip away to the lake for the weekend. "But Monday morning, it starts again. We have to get right back at it."
Something tells me that Nick Saban might savor this win for a little longer. With the jaw-dropping 21-0 victory on Monday night over LSU, Saban has climbed to the top of the mountain again. He may not openly admit that his third BCS title in seven years (he spent two years with the Miami Dolphins) was more special than the previous two. However, I think it was his most important title and easily the most satisfying.
Sometimes the elixir of victory is even sweeter just knowing how sour the taste of defeat would have been. I don't think the $5 million-a-year would have made up for having lost three straight to Les Miles and the prospect of that number possibly slipping to four on Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge.
Losing four in a row to LSU, almost assuredly the preseason No. 1, would be more than a passing of the baton. Try another word if you are Saban: Armageddon.
Saban respects Miles and the LSU program. Deep down, he seems to appreciate the importance of what has easily become college football's best and most riveting rivalry. He also appreciates getting that pesky monkey off his back by winning Monday's game.
While many seemed in awe at what took place in New Orleans, if you have studied the history of Saban it shouldn't have really been all that surprising. Nobody outworks or outthinks Saban in getting players ready to excel, especially in big games.
Saban's gameplan the first time was solid. The execution just came up a bit short. The piercing pressure of the moment overwhelmed some on the team, particularly sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron. This time Saban and his coaching staff worked hard to temper the emotions (even bringing in respected performance consultant Dr. Kevin Elko) and the 44-day layoff was Alabama's best friend. Saban designed a perfect practice schedule divided between hard work and rest, physical and mental preparation. Nothing was left to chance and it showed on the field from the first play. Once given the gameplan, Alabama's players peaked at just the right moment with many inspired performances.
I got my first sense that the Tide were going to be ready to play five days before the game when I ran into an Alabama official with knowledge of the gameplan one night in New Orleans. I asked him if he thought it would be different the second time around.
"Are you kidding?" he asked me. "We're going to beat their ass."
After the game, I found the same person on the field in the wild celebration. "I told you so,'' he said. "There was never a doubt.''
On the other side, Miles played the same cards he had on Nov. 5. The strategy worked fine when LSU only had two weeks to prepare. Yet, with 37 days, the mojo and energy seemed to evaporate from the team of destiny in the humid Louisiana night.
LSU's offense never got anything going, and with only five first downs never sniffed the goal line. Had the goal line been the 50-yard line, the Tigers would have still been trounced (only crossing it once late in the fourth quarter).
When the carnage was finally complete, the LSU players quickly exited the field of the Superdome. A few minutes later, Saban was soaking wet from a Gatorade bath, flashing a big smile and holding up the crystal ball again.
A few feet away, I found myself once again standing next to Terry Saban.
"Well, we finally scored a touchdown," she said.
When a friend suggested that maybe this time around, she and her husband might think about enjoying the fruits of this victory a little longer than with a quiet weekend in Georgia, she laughed and said, "We will."
This wasn't just another BCS title for Saban. This was a statement to prove to any naysayers that his team belonged in this game and could win it decisively. Not only is Saban the best coach in the land today, he is also quickly climbing into that rarefied air of college football's version of Mount Rushmore.
One can't help but think about comparisons with the legendary Bear Bryant, who won his last of six titles at Alabama in the Superdome 32 years ago. With his third BCS title, the most of any current coach, and after another coaching masterpiece, Saban deserves all the accolades that come his way.
He also deserves at least a week or two off to celebrate, but don't count on it happening.