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The list of key departing seniors is long and includes 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.

Not to worry, though. Alabama’s 2012 recruiting class is again shaping up as one of the tops nationally.

“We’re losing a lot of good football players,” Saban said. “And we’ve got a lot of good young ones coming up and some good players coming back.

“But every year is a bit of a rebuilding year and we’ll certainly have a lot of opportunities for a lot of young players to make a contribution next year.”

Leave it to Saban to drop in a little invitation to blue-chip prospects.

The road next season 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 and 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.

Still got that fire, coach?

“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.

Maybe he’s also realized that winning isn’t the only thing

“I really do think that maybe the only thing that’s changed about me is winning the game is not enough,” he said. “It really is not enough.”

Also important: “Doing it the right way … which also includes serving other people, which I think is one of the big things that this team did.”

Saban left New Orleans with a different enduring image from one that got plenty of airtime after the Tide beat Texas two years ago in Pasadena and enforced public perception of a dour Type A-plus personality. He was captured grimacing after a celebratory dousing, later explaining that he was reacting to getting bumped on the head by the cooler.

This time, he was left wet but unhurt.

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