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January 8, 2013

Saban's legacy grows with latest title

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. | You think you know Nick Saban: intense, determined, focused on the process and not the result.

But do you know Nick Saban: happy, smiling, even laughing and joking?

The University of Alabama's head football coach showed both sides in South Florida in the aftermath of the BCS National Championship Game.

While the Alabama program cemented dynasty status in winning its third national championship in four years with Monday night's 42-14 dismantling of Notre Dame, Saban furthered his legacy as college football's best coach by winning his fourth Bowl Championship Series title (the first coming at LSU).

Beyond that, however, Saban showed that he is more than the gruff dictator that he is often perceived to be, that he knows how to enjoy a big victory and that he has a sense of humor that isn't always on display.

"Whether I look it or not," Saban said in the postgame news conference, "I'm happy as hell."

He certainly looked it in the celebration on the field at Sun Life Stadium, grinning broadly as he joined in the celebration with his team. The next morning at another press function he seemed at ease with what the 2012 Crimson Tide team accomplished, and with himself, as he quipped about a variety of subjects.

On his four championship rings: "I just put them on the coffee table for the recruits to look at."

On his wife Terry's role in his success: "There's no doubt in my mind that she thinks she ought to be the head coach at Alabama right now. No doubt. And she is a hell of an assistant, even though she thinks she's the head coach, which when she's around I always make her think that."

On getting a Gatorade bath from players at the end of the game: "I really pride myself in being able to anticipate what's coming next, you know, anticipate what the next problem in the organization is, anticipate what we need to solve, what we need to focus on, what we need to work on, and I've never been able to anticipate the Gatorade coming. I don't know what's up with that."

Saban also used the week leading up to the game to rehabilitate his image in Miami, where he was vilified for leaving the Dolphins to take the Alabama job. He tackled the subject head-on and with humility, admitting mistakes in how he handled the situation.

If Saban seemed a bit looser, a bit softer, in the buildup to the game and after it, he also flashed his steely drive to succeed, even when being introspective about his accomplishments.

"Yeah, I think it's pretty special what we've accomplished, what the players accomplished, what the coaches accomplished, I think it's really special," he said. "And one of these days when I'm sitting on the side of a hill watching the stream go by, I'll probably figure it out even more.

"But what about next year's team? You've got to think about that, too."

If Saban comes out of his latest national championship run a little better understood as something more than a coach with laser focus and little tolerance for anything that doesn't further his mission of winning the next practice, the next play, the next game and the next championship, the imprint his team left only furthered his legacy as the greatest coach of his generation and one of the greatest of all time.

If you don't believe it, ask Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.

"I measure success as a head coach with consistency," Kelly said, "and some people use the word dynasty. I look at it as program consistency, starts at the top and filters its way through the entire program.

"And what Coach Saban has been able to do has really put an exclamation point on consistently putting elite programs and football teams together at the University of Alabama."

Reach Tommy Deas at tommy@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0224.



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