Saban Wins Big Stakes

Imagine a world in which Alabama just lost the BCS national championship game 21-0 and never mounted a serious scoring threat against the opponent. Imagine a world in which Nick Saban is 2-4 against Les Miles, the man who took over the program he left at LSU.

Imagine a world in where Saban faces second-guessing from radio jocks every day for the next year-plus on his coaching hires, philosophy on preparing for bowl games, and theory after dreaded theory on exactly why Les Miles just seems to have Nick Saban's number.

Imagine those things for a moment and you realize just how much hinged on the outcome of Monday night's BCS national championship game. You realize just how satisfied Nick Saban was when Trent Richardson scored the game's first touchdown and sealed the victory. That touchdown also sealed Alabama's 14th national championship and Nick Saban's legacy as one of the great coaches in college football history.

Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick stood on the sidelines screaming that "nobody gave us a chance." That was not true. Popular opinion among Alabama media seemed to be that the 2011 Alabama team, and the 2011 LSU team, were a notch above the national champions of the past several years, and that no outcome Monday night would have been a total surprise.

But exactly what was at stake was immense.

Saban did not have to reflect on such thoughts Monday night. Instead, he preached his twin messages of being "process-oriented" and "finishing," and did so with great effectiveness considering the BCS game's results.

"These guys, over the last year, have done things right almost all the time," he said in his post-game press conference Monday night. "We went to see the movie Red Tails last night, which I would recommend to anybody, but those guys's motto was the last plane, the last bullet, the last man, the last minute, we fight.

"And we always stay with the mission.  And I think that kind of described the spirit of that group extremely well, but it also describes the spirit of the group of players that we have on our team this year and takes a tremendous amount of resiliency to come back."

Saban noted that it was not a command for his players to finish the season strong, but rather a question.

"How bad do you want to finish?" he asked his team before the game. "What's your effort going to be, your enthusiasm, your excitement to play in the game, the toughness that you're willing to play with, all the intangibles, and you do it one play at a time?"

It was not the perfect game, Saban noted. There was a blocked field goal, a missed field goal, and an inability to score touchdowns for a long time. "But the guys just kept playing and never once was anybody ever discouraged about anything that ever happened in the game," he said.

"And I think that attitude prevailed for us as a team.  We were just going to play one play at a time, finish each play.  And regardless of what the circumstance was on the play before, have a sort of an 'I will not be denied' attitude about how to play the next play.

Saban said it was tougher losing a game and making it back to the national championship, but "I think that demonstrates the character of the people in that locker room to come back from that game and finish the season like they did."

Saban called AJ McCarron's standout performance "a fantastic job" of playing with emotion but also playing within himself and not attempting to do too much.

He called the 2011 defense "one of the most competitive groups of guys" he's ever coached.

"Sometimes I get mad at them at practice because they get a little bit hurt and they don't run to the ball like I want them to or like we want them to or whatever," he said. "But I always know, all right, when you throw the ball out, they're going to go get it.  Because they are a hateful bunch and they are as competitive as you can ever imagine.  And I think that's probably why they played really well in big games."

Saban said surprise offensive standout Kevin Norwood "did a great job" and said "when he's got the opportunity to play this year, he's played well and made good plays for us.  And made big catches and he certainly made some big catches tonight."

With the win Monday, Saban now only has to deal with the questions of when he'll win another national title. He faced that question once already Monday night, laying out another goal for his team to begin the process of pursuing.

"Look, I'm a day-to-day guy," he said.  "So we're process-oriented in what we do.  And the only thing I'm disappointed about, because it means a lot to me to win the SEC Championship, and we weren't able to accomplish that this year."

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