Wednesday, December 10, 2003 Updated: December 12, 9:49 AM ET
Saban beats out USC's Carroll for award
NEW YORK -- Nick Saban called his LSU team together early
last month, when the Tigers were in seventh place in the BCS
standings and a long shot to make it to the Sugar Bowl.
He told the players that now was the time to voice any frustration
over the rankings, because after that, they could only talk about
the next game. The players kept quiet, the Tigers kept winning, and
Saban's steady leadership helped him earn The Associated Press
Coach of the Year honor Thursday.
"Even though I'm accepting the honor, it's for all of the
players and coaches and support staff also," Saban said. "They
all had as big a part in it as I did. I'm very flattered and
Saban received 22 votes in balloting by the panel of sports
writers and broadcasters on the AP college football poll, beating
out Southern California's Pete Carroll by five.
Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Tulsa's Steve Kragthorpe tied for
third with four votes each and Navy's Paul Johnson was fifth with
two votes. Terry Hoeppner of Miami of Ohio, Joe Novak of Northern
Illinois, Rich Rodriguez of West Virginia, John L. Smith of
Michigan State and Gary Pinkel of Missouri each got one vote.
Iowa's Kirk Ferentz won the award last year.
The second-ranked Tigers won a school-record 12 games, captured
their second SEC title in three years, and earned a berth in the
Sugar Bowl against No. 3 Oklahoma with a chance to win the school's
second national title.
LSU finished fast to get into that position. The Tigers were in
seventh place in the BCS on Nov. 3, with a tough closing stretch to
come. That's when Saban got his team together before an off week to
sharpen its focus.
With games remaining at Alabama and Mississippi, at home against
Arkansas, and possibly in the SEC championship, Saban knew his
players couldn't get bogged down in any BCS controversy.
"I said we're going to talk about the BCS and where we're
ranked. This is the time to talk about it," he recalled. "I told
them when we leave this room we'll focus on what is and not what
"Rankings are what was. Rankings are what happened last week,
we had to worry about what will happen this week. We knew we had no
control of the BCS but we knew that if we didn't win we didn't have
a chance. We could only control what we could do."
That was the second time this season that Saban sensed that his
team's focus could be an issue. The Tigers got off to a quick
start, using a 17-10 win over then-No. 7 Georgia on Sept. 20 to
move into the top 10 of the AP poll.
Three weeks later, a struggling Florida team came to Baton Rouge
off a bad loss at home to Mississippi. The Tigers were feeling full
of themselves, according to Saban, and fell 19-7 to the Gators for
their only blemish of the season.
"We came out flat as a pancake against Florida," Saban said.
"I think from that point on the players bought into what we were
saying. They knew they had to play hard all the time. They finally
got it. I think it was an osmosis sort of thing with saying it so
much that it finally sunk in."
Instead of screaming at his players after that loss, Saban
offered words of encouragement.
The Tigers responded by winning their next seven games to make
it to the Sugar Bowl.
"Basically, he kind of calmed us down after the Florida game,"
offensive lineman Rodney Reed said. "He said not to stress out
trying to get better."
Saban came to LSU for the 2000 season, leaving Michigan State to
take over a program full of potential and short on results. The
Tigers had losing records in the 11 years before Saban arrived.
But with a rich recruiting base in Louisiana and some of the
game's most passionate fans, Saban built one of the top programs in
LSU has 38 wins in Saban's four seasons, the first Tigers coach
to post four consecutive winning seasons since Charles McClendon
Saban learned the trade as an assistant to coaches like Don
James, Earle Bruce and George Perles in college as well as Jerry Glanville
and Bill Belichick in the NFL.
His NFL ties have always raised questions about whether he would
like to return to the pro game. He turned down NFL jobs with
the Colts and the Giants while at Michigan State, but
his name will likely come up for openings this year.
But for now, Saban's a perfect fit where he's at.