The vibes Saban transmits in public do not resemble the warmest of feelings in terms of affection. Through no fault of his own, he comes across to the casual observer as a person who is hard to get close to.
While that may be true for an ordinary person, Saban has a different relationship with his players. And the third year head coach made that known as he said goodbye to his senior class following the Tigers 35-20 loss to Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
With his voice already shaky from an afternoon of intense coaching on the sideline, Saban hoarsely said goodbye to a group of players he grew very attached to since coming to Baton Rouge prior to the 2000 season. Fighting back tears and with a lump in his throat, Saban spoke candidly about the relationship with a couple of seniors on the LSU team.
"I had a little bit of a tough time in the locker room," Saban said. "We have a real good senior bunch. They've really done a lot for this program in three years. They are some good character people. They've played a lot of good football here. It's going to be the hardest bunch for me to let go."
Saban's tight knit relationship with a couple of senior players was chronicled through the 2002 season. Players like Kendrick Allen and Demetrius Hookfin were held in high regard by the Tigers head man. Even Damien James, who left the team abruptly in the middle of the season, was one of Saban's favorites.
Saban left little doubt who the emotional leader of the team was all season long. Bradie James' charismatic approach to the team was a beacon in the night through the darkest times of the regular season.
James, an AP All-American as a senior, was a four-year starter for LSU and was one of the key players in helping smooth the transitional period following the firing of Gerry DiNardo and the arrival of Saban prior to his sophomore season.
" We set the foundation for the guys that have been here for four and five years," James said. "We're trying to bring that winning tradition to LSU, a nationally recognized team."
James and the other members of the senior class were part of a 3-8 team during their freshman season in 1999, what was the twilight of DiNardo era. After Saban arrived, the departing senior was a driving force behind an 8-4 record and Peach Bowl championship. A year later, they climbed to the top of the mountain with an SEC title and a win over Illinois in the Nokia Sugar Bowl.