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Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Saban's success reaches new level

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- If Nick Saban regards history at all, it is as something for other people to regard. The motor that propels Saban's mind and gut has a reverse gear that is rarely used.

Nick Saban
Nick Saban has won at an historic rate as head coach of Alabama.

In the wake of Alabama's 42-14 victory over Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship on Monday night, the Crimson Tide head coach climbed to a level of greatness so remote that few believed it would be broached again.

Frank Leahy won four national championships at Notre Dame in the 1940s. Bear Bryant won six national championships at Alabama in the 1960s and 1970s. In the time since Bryant coached, scholarships have been reduced from 105 to 85. Schedules have been lengthened from 11 games to 14. And no team may win a national championship without winning a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game at the end of the season.

And yet Saban has won.

Saban won the BCS title at LSU in 2003 and now has won the crystal football at Alabama in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Alabama became the first team to repeat as national champion since Nebraska in 1994-95. The Huskers shared the 1997 title, as well, which means the Crimson Tide also matched them in winning three titles in four seasons.

In 1994, Nebraska opened the season against Michigan State, which had a new coach.

"They beat us 55-14," Saban said, "and the score did not indicate how bad they beat us. I hadn't been in college football for four or five years. I had been in the NFL. I'm thinking, 'We're never going to win a game. We'll never win a game here at Michigan State. I must have taken a bad job, wrong job, no players, something.'

"I remember Coach Osborne, when we shook hands after the game, put his arm around me and whispered in my ear, 'You're not really as bad as you think.' I think he knew he had a really good team."

The 1995 team that repeated as national champion is considered one of the best to ever play college football. There has been no such talk about this Crimson Tide team. That may make its achievement even more impressive.

"This is the hardest championship I've won," said center Barrett Jones, a fifth-year player who leaves with three rings. "Just because, coming off a championship, so many guys in our program haven't experienced failure. It's just hard to motivate those guys sometimes and hard to simulate what it feels like to lose without actually losing a lot."

Nick Saban
For Saban, the focus always moves to the next task.

Saban, over the arc of his four decades in coaching, has developed the ability to teach his players how to focus on the next task, whether it is a play, a practice rep, a session of weightlifting or a class. His players graduate. They rarely step over the line of bad conduct. And now he has four rings to show for his effort.

About the rings: What does he do with them?

"I just put them on the coffee table for the recruits to look at," Saban said, displaying a comic timing worthy of Jerry Seinfeld.

"I don't really wear any of the championship rings," he continued after the laughter died down. "Never have. I think the satisfaction, enjoyment, comes from the fact that you did the best to be the best you can be at what you were trying to do. We don't really need to wear a ring and go like this, where everybody says, 'Look, what I got.' That's just not my style."

Saban's style is not flashy. He doesn't attract recruits with a fast-tempo offense or a magnetic personality. Saban sells excellence. Through enticement, intimidation, coaxing, haranguing -- in other words, through coaching -- Saban has come to Alabama and won at a pace equal to or better than that of Bryant.

Make your argument as to which coach performed better, but keep in mind one thing: Bryant went 0-4 against Notre Dame.