Nick Saban admits to enjoying it more

NEW ORLEANS -- Nick Saban rolled out of bed Tuesday morning without time even for his daily dose of The Weather Channel with his wife, Terry.

The business of celebrating Alabama's second national championship in three years disrupted the morning routine for a coach who makes a habit of, well ... habits.

This time, he didn't seem to mind.

And of all things, it is the picture of the postgame Gatorade drenching that reveals the difference in attitude between the 2009 and 2011 seasons.

The image of Saban three years ago, when the Crimson Tide beat Texas for the national title, could hardly be described as merry. Saban -- straight-laced, focused, unemotional -- glowered after getting the cooler-full of red liquid dumped on him.

But after Alabama shut out previously undefeated LSU Monday 21-0 in the
Allstate BCS Championship Game, when he got the Gatorade bath -- orange, this time -- he was caught hopping and smiling.

"I enjoyed the Gatorade bath two years ago," Saban said Tuesday in the morning-after news conference. "I wasn't expecting it and got kind of almost knocked out. The players improved in terms of their ability to deliver. I improved on my ability to accept, and everybody was happy."

Saban, who has three national titles overall now, acknowledged Tuesday he might have savored this one a little more, as evidenced by his unrestrained smiles after the game.

"To be honest with you, I think I maybe did," he said Tuesday. "This team was a special team -- not that the 2009 team was any different. And certainly an honor and a privilege to be with a group that made the kind of commitment that you look for from a competitive character standpoint and intangibles that you always strive to try to get as a coach.

"It was a really special group."

Saban gave what might end up being a farewell tribute to Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson without even being asked. Richardson broke Mark Ingram's 2-year-old school rushing mark with 1,679 yards and ran for 21 touchdowns, second only to Tim Tebow's 23 in Southeastern Conference history.

Saban said Richardson "probably had as good a football season as anyone that I've ever had the opportunity to coach."

"I always use the analogy that you really can't be a great player unless you affect somebody on your team," the coach said. "Players make plays. Good players affect somebody on their team. Great players affect their entire unit.

"And Trent's competitive spirit certainly affected everybody on our team."

The 60-year-old Saban praised his team's execution -- on and off the field -- made it clear he's still got the passion to stick around the sideline a while, and addressed the possibility Alabama, which was crowned No. 1 Monday night in The Associated Press top 25 poll, might have a top-five team again next season.

The exodus -- but also the talent infusion -- will continue. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick are among juniors considering a jump to the NFL. The Crimson Tide will lose three-time All-America safety Mark Barron, linebacker and defensive MVP Courtney Upshaw, nose guard Josh Chapman, center William Vlachos, cornerback DeQuan Menzie and wide receiver Marquis Maze, all seniors.

Alabama's 2012 recruiting class again is shaping up as one of the best nationally. But the road next season also will be a little harder. The Tide opens against Michigan at Cowboys Stadium outside Dallas and has road games against Arkansas and an LSU team that figures to be loaded once again.

This defense will be hard to top, too. The Tide held LSU to 92 total yards and five first downs, the ninth time this season an opponent hasn't scored in double digits. It also was the team's third shutout.

Saban left no doubt he still has the passion to coach. Alabama
fans can rest easy, as he said no retirement to his lake house in
north Georgia is imminent.

"When a guy jumps offsides with three minutes left in the game,
and you still coach your team like the first game of the season,
what do you think?" Saban said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.