After so many hours of answering questions – many of them the kind of questions that might draw his ire outside of the national spotlight – Alabama Coach Nick Saban said Sunday morning at the final press conference before Monday night’s College Football Playoff national championship game that he considered it a privilege to be in the position of answering questions one more time.
Alabama and Clemson are meeting for the second consecutive year in the national title game. Kickoff will be at 8 p.m. EST (7 p.m. central time) Monday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. ESPN will televise the game.
Both Saban and Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney have been available several times since their teams won their spots in the CFP national championship game on Jan. 31, Bama defeating Washington, 24-7, in the Peach Bowl, and Clemson romping over Ohio State, 31-0, in the Fiesta Bowl. In fact, both were available for an hour each (along with all their assistant coaches and all of their players) Saturday morning.
And so, it seemed, there could be nothing else to ask on Sunday morning. Some of the questions were of the type that might have drawn at least one of those long sighs and a grimmace from Saban, but there were a few good ones.
Most intriguing question, though, was left hanging.
Swinney, who played as a walkon at Alabama and then earned a master’s degree at The University while working as a graduate assistant under Gene Stallings, and then became a fulltime assistant before heading off to Clemson, is more than just the casual former Bama player; and not just because he is the head coach at Clemson.
He is a longtime student of Alabama football success, particularly the success of Paul Bryant before Swinney was born and through the very early Swinney years.
And Swinney, who has become friends with Saban, also demonstrated his admiration for what Alabama’s coach has accomplished in winning four of the last seven national championships and being in the finals for his fifth in eight years.
“I've never seen anything like it,” Swinney said. “I grew up, Coach Bryant was a hero of mine, and everybody here knows about Coach Bryant. But with what Coach Saban has done, the amount of championships in the span of time with scholarships, it's just incredible. I really have no words, because it's really hard to do.
“And I just think that that's a credit to his – you know, it's just like us, if we can win this thing tomorrow night, it's not like it's our final destination, like we just hang up the cleats and walk away. You're always trying to get better, and that's what I give Coach Saban credit for.
“He's worked really hard – every year is kind of that season of its own and you have your challenges, and it's a journey of its own.
“But to be able to regroup and create that edge and meet those challenges, continue to manage your staff and your roster and compete at the highest level, I mean, it's just unbelievable what has happened.”
And then Swinney provided an interesting tidbit.
He pointed out that Alabama was “in a state of flux,” a polite way of saying Alabama was not a very good football team prior to Saban’s arrival in 2007, and added, “almost went with him, actually.”
Swinney was an assistant coach at Clemson, but just a couple of years away from ascending to the head coaching position for the Tigers when Saban came to Alabama.
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Sorry. The CFP media relations specialist then announced, “Last question.” And it wasn’t about a time when Swinney might have been working at Alabama for Saban.