Commentary

Saban reflective after third BCS title

Originally Published: January 10, 2012
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

NEW ORLEANS -- The last time Nick Saban won a BCS championship at Alabama, in 2009, the university responded by erecting a 9-foot bronze statue of him. Saban, a man who covets attention the way he covets penalties, must be in mortal fear of what lies ahead in the wake of the Crimson Tide's 21-0 victory over LSU on Monday night in the Allstate BCS Championship Game.

After Paul "Bear" Bryant won multiple national titles with the Crimson Tide, the university appended his name to Denny Stadium. There's always the other landmark fixture on campus: Saban-Denny Chimes.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Dave MartinAlabama coach Nick Saban joined distinguished company after winning his third national championship.

"No," athletic director Mal Moore said Tuesday morning, "we'll just add another date to [the statue]."

Saban became the first coach since Tom Osborne of Nebraska in 1997, and only the ninth since the advent of the wire-service polls in 1936, to win three national championships. In limiting LSU to 92 yards of offense and winning the first shutout in the 14 seasons of BCS bowls, the Tide showed why college football had little need for a plus-one game this season.

That's a good thing, too, because after the spectacle staged in New Orleans, with LSU and Alabama fans filling the French Quarter to impassability during the week and filling the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to a near 50-50 split Monday night, this would be a tough act to follow. That's why, as the commissioners begin to discuss the future of the BCS, Sugar Bowl chief executive officer Paul Hoolahan remains serene.

"As long as I'm riding Secretariat, here it is, right here: Who cares?" he said.

Saban is known for cracking the whip in the stirrups himself. He might be a guy who demands attention to detail from his staff, his players and himself, yet he raved about how much he enjoyed coaching this Alabama team. The Tide exhibited the competitiveness and the character every coach desires, Saban said, traits such as "togetherness, positive attitude, the responsibility and accountability they took for each other and themselves, and the hard work and discipline that went into the development of this team."

Twice he singled out defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who works in the silent shadow cast by Saban (silent because Saban allows his assistant coaches to speak publicly to the media only two or three times a year).

"People probably give me more credit than I deserve," Saban said, "and [Smart] should not be overshadowed because I'm a defensive coach. We do work well together. But he implements what we do. He contributes to the plan. He organizes it. He presents it to the players. The players respond very well to him. He's a very bright guy. He will make a great head coach someday and has done just a fantastic job."

[+] EnlargeKirby Smart
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireSaban praised defensive coordinator Kirby Smart following the Tide's 21-0 win over LSU.

As he finished his 16th season as a Football Bowl Subdivision head coach, at 60 years of age, Saban, never an introspective sort, said his skills have matured as well.

"I think the more knowledge and experience that we've sort of gotten through the years," he said, "it's become more about the other people and less about me … and I think that's improved our ability to affect other people."

He made it clear that, three national championships in, the competitive fires have not banked. That should have been clear to anyone still watching the game in the fourth quarter when the cameras caught Saban, his team ahead 21-0, reacting with anger when his team committed its first and only penalty of the night.

"What do you think?" Saban shot back at his questioner. "When a guy jumps offside with three minutes to go in a game and you still coach your team like it's the first game of the season, what do you think? I mean, I'm a competitor. I think the real positive self-gratification you get is seeing people perform, accomplish, become more than even they thought they might be. And that's sort of why we do this."

As the BCS begins to take its system apart piece by piece to examine and improve upon it, the plus-one format will be scrutinized. Saban declined to speculate, other than to point out that, in 2003, after his LSU team won the BCS title and USC won the AP title, promoters suggested a plus-one game and he was all for it.

Hoolahan worried aloud about how many venues the BCS might include, given the state of the economy and the cost to the typical fan of one bowl game, much less two games in two weeks. But the Sugar Bowl, with $40 million in the bank before this game and much more coming in this week, is ready to do battle. He is willing to stage a plus-one semifinal, if that's what the BCS wants. If the BCS opens the bidding on a plus-one game, Hoolahan is wary of Jerry Jones and Cowboys Stadium.

"We've got a monster, a 500-pound gorilla that can bury any of us if he says, 'Unlimited check,'" Hoolahan said. "Palatial facility, all of that. Whatever comes up, we want to be prepared. … I want to be in a position to do two things: to make sure I ensure my future, not only while I'm here but for many years to come, and beyond that, I want to do what we're doing now."

Hoolahan referred to the Sugar Bowl's $2 million commitment, along with Nike and the Drew Brees Foundation, to renovate the parks of the New Orleans Recreation Department. They broke ground Tuesday. Saban broke ground Tuesday on the 2012 Crimson Tide. They also have a tough act to follow.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com