'Sabanation' Arrives In Full

HOOVER, Ala. -- The fans crowded in the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel on Thursday morning, looking like they were awaiting the release of the final Harry Potter book.


Instead, they were hoping to catch a glimpse of Alabama football coach Nick Saban as he arrived at the hotel and left a short time later.
The crowd got so large at one point that a velvet rope was brought in to separate the Alabama fans from the short hallway known as Radio Row. Hotel security thought the rope was needed to prevent a fire hazard.
"I think it's awesome how excited people are about having a head coach like him at the university," Alabama cornerback Simeon Castille said on the second day of the Southeastern Conference's football media days. "I think he has come into a great opportunity at Alabama."
Since being hired in January to bring the Crimson Tide back to national prominence, mobs of fans have greeted Saban wherever he goes in this football-crazed state.
A crowd of 92,138 came out April 4 to watch Alabama's A-Day game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It was the largest crowd ever to watch a spring football game, and the hysteria surrounding "Sabanation" hasn't died down yet.
It's gotten to the point where parents throughout the state are naming their children after Saban, who is still more than a month away from making his coaching debut with the Crimson Tide.
"I know there is always going to be the questions about expectations," Saban said, looking uncomfortable Thursday while answering questions from reporters. "Let me just say this: We would not want to coach someplace where (the fans) didn't expect to win."
After watching the Crimson Tide hover around mediocrity over the past few years under coaches like Mike Shula, Mike Shula and Dennis Franchione, Alabama fans welcomed the arrival of a proven winner like Saban.
But Alabama fans aren't known for being a patient bunch. And as college football's highest-paid coach -- at $4 million a year -- Saban knows there are expectations for him to win a national championship in the near future.
He tried his best, though, to keep things in check Thursday. After all, Alabama went 6-7 last year under Shula, and the Crimson Tide are being projected to finish in the middle of the pack in the SEC West.
"Hey, we want to win. We want our expectations to be to win, all right?" Saban said. "But we want to do things that we need to do to give our players the best opportunity to do that everyday as we make progress toward that."
Saban's arrival has overshadowed his players this offseason. That's perhaps most evident with Alabama's 2007 football media guide, which features a large picture of the coach on the front and back covers.
There are no pictures, though, of any of Alabama's players on either cover. That didn't bother Castille.
"That's fine. I don't really put too much into that," Castille said. "I mean, it's a media guide and he's the head coach. So if he's going to be on it and no one else, so be it."
The cornerback said he hasn't heard any complaints from teammates, who might feel lost in the Saban hysteria. It was expected.
Jeremiah Castille, Simeon's father and a former Alabama defensive back who played for Paul "Bear" Bryant, said he thinks Saban is the perfect guy to rejuvenate the Crimson Tide.
The elder Castille said he sees similarities between Saban and Bryant. Both are known for being demanding, no-nonsense coaches who have stressed discipline.
"He's not here to jump through hoops for anybody," Jeremiah Castille said of Saban. "He's here to please people by winning ball games."

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