Is Saban-Alabama A Perfect Match?

Is there a little crack in the Nick Saban-University of Alabama bond? Probably not, but Saban didn't give the 100 per cent Crimson answer to a most interesting question in New Orleans Saturday as Bama reported for Sugar Bowl duty. Perhaps because the question was asked in Louisiana, where hard feelings remain, Saban's answer may have been a little too politically correct to suit some Bama fans.

After a three-day Christmas break, Alabama players and coaches gathered at the New Orleans Saints practice facility Saturday afternoon to resume preparations for the January 2 Sugar Bowl game against Utah. Bama, 12-1 and ranked fourth in the nation, and the Utes, 12-0 and ranked sixth, will kick off at 7 p.m. CST Friday in the Superdome with Fox televising the game.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban met with reporters briefly Saturday afternoon. He complimented the Sugar Bowl and the City of New Orleans for its hospitality, remarked on the outstanding tradition of the Sugar Bowl and of Alabama's part in it, and discussed the job his players had done in achieving greater success than had generally been expected. He also complimented Utah and recalled his fond moments of living in Louisiana for five years as head coach at LSU, and of his two appearances in the Sugar Bowl.

Just before dashing to his coaches' meeting, Saban got a most interesting question from distinguished New Orleans sportswriter Pete Finney: Is Alabama football and Nick Saban the perfect marriage?

"Alabama is a great place to be," Saban said. "College football is the ideal place for the Sabans to be."

He went on to say that he had loved his time at LSU and also his time as head coach at Michigan State, explaining that he had left LSU (following the 2004 season) only because there was the unexplored challenge of NFL football. He said that while he loved football with the world's finest players, the pro game did not satisfy his primary motivation in coaching, which is to help mold young men.

Some LSU fans have been a bit dissatisfied with Saban having gone to Alabama, notwithstanding that he rebuilt a mediocre football program into a national championship team and left the cupboard stockpiled for his successor to also win a national title.

Saban was selected national coach of the year this season, his second at Alabama. Most observers of college football believe that Saban, considered to be at the top in his profession, and Bama, where there is extraordinary commitment to football, are, indeed, the perfect match.

Saban said, "We are excited and happy to be here.  It is especially exciting given that this is the 75th anniversary of the Sugar Bowl and The University of Alabama has the chance to be a part of that celebration.  The University of Alabama also has a great tradition as part of this event. The Sugar Bowl has always had great games, great tradition, and great teams.  Utah is certainly a great team as well; they are undefeated.

"We certainly understand what we need to do to play a great football game.  This game is about the players, what it means to them, and what they want their legacy to be as a football team.  When you have an opportunity to play in a BCS bowl game this is what your team will be remembered for.  We also have an opportunity to win 13 games, which would be only the second time that has been accomplished at the University of Alabama."

Saban said that one player in the Crimson Tide traveling party was expected to be late arriving.

The Tide coach was asked what he had learned as a coach this season.

"I think the biggest thing that I learned this year is that when a team makes a commitment to certain standards of excellence they can achieve," Saban said. "No one really thought that much of this team in the pre-season; I think we were predicted to finish third in our division (Southeastern Conference Western Division). But this team bought into togetherness, respect, trust, and what they wanted to accomplish."

He said the players took responsibility for their jobs, that they had commitment, perseverance and positive energy.

"That had a significant impact on our ability to be successful," he said. "This team is a first hand example of what having the ‘right stuff' attitude wise can mean to getting your goals accomplished."

Saban has made it clear that the goals are not complete, that he thinks the legacy of the team will be its success or failure in the Sugar Bowl.

"I think it is a great opportunity for the players and how they want to finish the season and what they want their legacy to be," he said. "It is a great opportunity for them to play in a great venue against a great team.  It is really about what they want to accomplish and it is about them."

He said he hoped the team had enough "maturity and foresight" to balance the reward of a bowl game with the mission. He said he wants the players to enjoy themselves and the City of New Orleans, but to use good judgment as representatives of themselves, their team, The University of Alabama and their families.

Saban said Bama would have a curfew, one that was established with input from the "Peer Group," the team's leadership body.

Saban said there is some concern about a long break between games. Alabama last played in the SEC Championship Game on December 6.

He said, "It is always a concern when you have this kind of a break – it is a concern even when you have just one week off with a bye.  The important thing is that we had good practices at home and we will need to have good practices here.  Because we played in the SEC Championship, we only had about nine or ten days off."  

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