With his crimson polo still damp from the Gatorade bath he begrudgingly received, Alabama head coach Nick Saban celebrated his victory by not really celebrating at all.
As he commended his players and acknowledged the three national championships conquered in four years, Saban again discussed “the process,” a term he’s used frequently over the past year.
The process was complete. Alabama hoisted yet another crystal football, and the words dominance and dynasty were tossed around, and appropriately so, to describe the incredible stretch from the team in Tuscaloosa.
Yet still, with Sun Life Stadium’s lights still lit and cleat marks still fresh in the manicured Miami turf, Saban uttered the following words with complete and utter seriousness to an ESPN crew trying to understand the man.
“We need to get a lot better.”
His response brought about a nervous laughter from analysts Kirk Herbstreit and David Pollack. Neither expected this kind of message, not now, even from the most precise and intense man in the sport they cover.
Saban quickly joined in the laughter once the mood shifted, although this wasn’t planned or part of any process. It lasted for only a few seconds, and soon his unfamiliar smile returned to the stoic, statue-like face that we’ve grown accustomed to over the past five years.
(Jump to the 3:30-mark for the quote.)
No breaks, no moments to reflect and no time to look back on what you just accomplished this year or the year before. Although he stated that he would have a few days off—as in 36 hours—Saban was already at work. After all, according to him, they’re “behind in recruiting.”
Alabama currently has the No. 4-ranked recruiting class according to Rivals.com and is all but assured at top-five ranking rich with talent once again. A month of preparation for another national championship will indeed set you back on the recruiting front, although the showcase itself is the biggest recruiting tool of them all.
Not according to Saban, though. For him, he was already behind, lagging and losing ground to the teams desperately trying to keep up. As beautiful as this national championship run was, it was also a nuisance. It took him away from important business with national signing day creeping closer.
I imagine all college football coaches tuning in for this late-night exchange had the same thought before attempting to shut it down for the night.
This is what we’re up against? How do you keep up? How does anyone keep up with the merciless machine that is Nick Saban?
This is the obstacle for not just the SEC but also every team in the country—a tireless football genius that has no off switch and experiences no football fatigue, at least publicly. He hasn’t set a lofty goal when it comes to championships and accolades (at least publicly), only more. Win more. Better yet, don’t lose. His 49-5 record over the past four seasons speaks volumes, although he’d rather not talk about where they’ve been or where they’re going.
Only the process.
I’ll bet he could tell you specifically about each and every loss in that stretch, however, right down to the very play or plays where the game crumbled.
Many coaches know this routine, the sadistic effort and daily ritual of never shutting down. To be successful at even the smallest levels, you pretty much have to let the job consume you. There are others that certainly match Saban in hours allocated in a day, but there’s no one that wants to win more. More appropriately, there’s no one that despises losing as much as he does.
Match this kind of intensity with incredible football acumen—a brilliant mind for the game on both sides of the football that is constantly evolving—and it’s easy to see why he’s so successful. Mix in a tremendous staff that has remained mostly intact and an unbelievable sense of how to manage the bizarre recruiting world, and you’re approaching the kind of unfair levels that have played out in recent Januarys.
There are many brilliant coaches in the game right now, some of which are only getting started: Urban Meyer, Chip Kelly (for now), Kevin Sumlin, Chris Petersen, Mike Gundy, Brian Kelly and Les Miles just to name a few. And yet, even with such incredible football intellect and talent to put this intellect to good use, Saban stands on a pedestal all alone.
As dominant as he is, Alabama will, of course, lose a football game every now and then and not win every crystal football until he decides to hang them up or head elsewhere.
Although Saban’s group will be a significant favorite to win yet another title in 2014—and have yet another roster deep with talent and championship experience—it may not go as planned. The room for error is so incredibly small, and all it takes is one bad day.
But the process will be in place once again. The process never stops, never sleeps, never reboots, at least for him.
Nick Saban is already hard at work on his third consecutive national championship, which is terrifying news for those desperately trying to keep up.
After all, they need to get a lot better.