MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. (AP) - At some point, this much success should have brought joy, or at the very least, a deep sense of satisfaction. It’s only made Nick Saban chase each win more relentlessly than the last.
If nothing else, it will be interesting to see him try to top this one.
Alabama’s Crimson Tide slipped on the BCS crown for the third time in the last four years Monday night, crushing Notre Dame 42-14 and almost as impressively, forcing a wide grin from its often-unsmiling coach. Small wonder.
The win was Saban’s fourth national championship, which left him tied with Notre Dame’s Frank Leahy for second on The Associated Press’ all-time list, and behind only Paul “Bear” Bryant, the most famed of his predecessors at Alabama.
“It’s not about me,” he said insisted afterward. “It’s about seeing all those people being happy and proud of what this team was able to accomplish.
“That’s the thing that makes me happy and whether I look it or not,” he added, cracking what might have been his second grin of the night, “I’m happy as hell.”
For the next 24 hours or so.
“Just because we won the national championship doesn’t mean you don’t have to go do the right things the right way at the right time like you’re always supposed to. … So,” he continued a moment later, “we’re going to help them do that starting Wednesday.”
The weekend before the title game, more than a few people wondered whether Saban might finally open up, the way Urban Meyer did while still coaching at Florida a while back, the way some of his peers have when their legacy, like Saban’s, was secured. He did _ just not the way most expected.
He began with a story about inheriting his uncompromising work ethic from a father that he and everyone else in their tucked-away corner of West Virginia always called “Big Nick.”
“There was a bum that used to come to my dad’s service station early in the morning because he’d give him free coffee and doughnuts,” Saban said. “We had had a tough game the night before, I don’t remember whether it was basketball game, a football game or whatever. The guy was giving me a hard time and I sort of sassed him. I was 17 years old. I got the strap right on the spot.
“It was the right thing,” he added quickly. “I needed to learn a lesson. I was disrespectful to an older person, regardless of the situation.”
Saban rarely comes off as a man who speaks from the heart. More often, he sounds like someone cobbling together bits and pieces culled from a shelf’s worth of books on motivational speaking, which Saban happens to have turned into a lucrative sideline. Maybe that’s what made the story he told about his father seem even more revealing when the subject came up a day later.
This time, the lesson was not about respect, but about always striving for “a standard of excellence, a perfection.” Saban recalled being 11 years old, already working at that same service station by then. His responsibilities ran the gamut from pumping gas and collecting the cash to checking the oil and tires, and finally, washing the cars.
“I hated the navy blue and black cars, because when you wiped them off, the streaks were hard to get out. And if there were any streaks when he came,” Saban paused, referring to “Big Nick” again, “you had to do it over.”