- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Stepping into coach Nick Saban's office is no easy task for teenagers. They see the glowering 61-year-old man on the sidelines during games and wonder how they'll ever speak to him, how they'll even accept a scholarship offer to the University of Alabama if it comes.
Then, they're invited in his office for a conversation. Saban pushes a button and the door swings shut on his plush office tucked inside the football offices on the Tuscaloosa campus. Suddenly they're alone with the man who holds the keys to the college football kingdom. The wins, the conference titles, the national championships, the players he has put in the NFL -- if there's a hole in Saban's résumé, it's not a glaring one. His reputation with recruits precedes him.
"It was the camp that I actually committed," Maurice Smith, a four-star defensive back commitment from Texas, told ESPN. "It was an honor and a blessing to be able to talk to one of the best of the best. I was actually kind of nervous coming into his office. When I had walked into his office, he was the only coach who ever had a button -- he pushes the button and the door closes."
Smith, who held offers from Arkansas, Florida, Florida State, LSU and Texas among others, chose Alabama for "a national championship ring" and the chance to "get the best one-on-one work ... at my position from one of the best head coaches in the game."
When players commit to Saban and the Crimson Tide, they usually have similar stories. Wide receiver Raheem Falkins said he was "shocked" when he met Saban, offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman said he was "intimidated," and quarterback Cooper Bateman fell somewhere in between.
"You're sitting there talking to him face-to-face, and it doesn't really hit you that you're talking to Nick Saban," the sixth-rated pocket passer in the ESPN 150 said. "What an honor it was and what a presence he is."
Unlike many football programs and their head coaches, Alabama and Saban don't have to sell a shtick. Saban's reputation speaks for itself, as does that of the university. He doesn't have a pitch for recruits, more like a question: How bad do you want it? There's no mirage that it will be easy, no promise of early playing time, just the cold truth of competition. After compiling top-three recruiting classes every year since 2008, he has no shortage of talent in Tuscaloosa.
"I knew what to expect. It's Alabama," said freshman cornerback Geno Smith, a former four-star prospect out of St. Pius X near Atlanta. He spurned the Georgia Bulldogs to step into an environment he described as "everyday competition."
Luckily for Alabama, that competition has bred success on and off the field. UA has had 20 players drafted by the NFL since playing in the first of three national championship games.
While some schools can sell appealing spread offenses or negatively recruit against Saban's complex defense, it hasn't slowed the commitments from coming in. Alabama is No. 2 in this year's ESPN class rankings with a whopping 16 four-star commitments, including Derrick Henry, Robert Foster, Jonathan Allen, DeMarcus Walker and O.J. Howard -- all of whom rank in the top five nationally at their positions.
Defensive ends Allen and Walker both chose Alabama's 3-4 scheme over other schools with a traditional 4-3 alignment with four down linemen instead of three. Playing in Saban's system doesn't allow for many sacks from the end position. And while that has been used in recruiting against Saban, it hasn't been very successful. As with everything he's selling, he's not peddling a product, he's just stating facts and letting the players decide.
"Half the teams in the NFL play a 3-4 and half play a 4-3, so why wouldn't it be good to learn both?" Saban asked, adding that he uses the base defense only approximately 20 percent of the time anyway. "I've not been able to figure that one out. There are some things that are not logical to me."
He continued: "I'm not the smartest guy in the world, so that's probably not a surprise to any of you."
Saban might, in fact, not be the smartest or most endearing coach in college football. He's not the slickest of salesmen and he doesn't hawk the most appealing product at times. Not every prospect is suited for his brand of football.
But while he might not have every chip in his favor, he has the only kind that counts -- the blue ones. The blue-chip prospects keep choosing Saban and Alabama at a rate that defies explanation.
6hTristan H. Cockcroft