Saban, Kelly lead Bama and ND out of darkness

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FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (AP) - There were some dark days at Notre Dame and Alabama, dark years really, during which two of college football’s proudest programs flailed and foundered.

Notre Dame won the national championship in 1988, then spent much of the next two decades running through coaches _ four if you count the guy who never coached a game _ and drifting between mediocre and pretty good.

Alabama won the national championship in 1992, then spent the next 15 years running through coaches _ four if you count the guy who never coached a game _ and drifting between mediocre and pretty good.

As the 21st century dawned, the Fighting Irish and the Crimson Tide were old news, stodgy remnants of a glorious past, not moving fast enough to keep up with the times, and searching for someone to lead them back to the top.

“It parallels Notre Dame to a tee,” said Paul Finebaum, who has covered Alabama as a newspaper reporter and radio show host for more than 30 years. “The attitude was `We’re Alabama. We don’t have to do what others are doing. We’ll win because of our tradition.’ Finally everyone passed Alabama.”

And Notre Dame.

Then along came Nick Saban and Brian Kelly to knock off the rust, fine tune the engines and turn the Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish into the sharpest machines in college football again.

No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama meet Monday night in Miami in a BCS championship between two titans not all that far removed from tough times.

“The pendulum swings,” said former Alabama coach Gene Stallings, the last Tide coach before Saban to bring home a national title. “You don’t stay good forever. You don’t stay bad forever.”

Of course, Alabama and Notre Dame fans aren’t real comfortable with the first part of that statement. The Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish were perennial national championship contenders for decades.

For Alabama, replacing Bear proved difficult. Paul Bryant won six national championships in 25 years as the coach in Tuscaloosa, and when he stepped down the Crimson Tide felt compelled to bring back one of his boys to replace him. Ray Perkins was hired away from the New York Giants, and spent four years at Alabama before going back to the NFL.

Alabama tried going outside the family and hired Bill Curry. He lasted three years, before leaving for Kentucky.

“You follow somebody like Coach Bryant, it’s an extremely difficult situation,” Stallings said.

Stallings played for Bryant at Texas A&M, coached under him at Alabama and even sounded a bit like the Bear with his baritone drawl. He found success and relative peace in seven seasons as coach of the Tide.

“I told Coach Bryant stories. I wasn’t in competition with Coach Bryant,” Stallings said. “I think that’s one of the reasons I was, quote, accepted by the Alabama people.”

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