The smiles are infrequent, the scowls are everlasting and the chase for the next one is a reoccurring game played out 24/7/365 that begins just as soon as the past one ends.
The life of Alabama coach Nick Saban isn’t easy, but he is one of the few—in any profession—who can not only handle the rigors of the demanding job that he has but thrive at the same time. That’s a good reason why he held up another national championship trophy on Monday night after escaping a very good Clemson team with a superstar quarterback in Deshaun Watson.
In short, the process he has developed works spectacularly at a place like the one he rules over in Tuscaloosa, and there appears to be no sign of the Crimson Tide slowing down any time soon.
Saban captured his fifth title to close out the 2015 season, marking the fourth time in seven years that he captured a trophy for an Alabama program that has long been established as a blue blood of the sport.
Adding in his first championship at LSU, the five rings he can put on for recruits represent the most of any coach not named Bear Bryant.
That is likely why, as the confetti was still falling on Monday night, there was plenty of talk of Saban being the greatest of all time—given not only the rings he has but the fact that he’s consistently won at a high level in the modern era of college football, when success is much more difficult to sustain.
That conversation may be best saved for another day to add a bit more historical perspective rather than in-the-moment awe, but there is little question that Saban’s juggernaut at Alabama is dominating the sport unlike many others before.
“I know you all think I'm a little bit crazy, so I'll just go ahead and be crazy. I think that sometimes success can put a distorted perspective on things for you to some degree,” Saban said at his celebratory press conference on Tuesday morning. “I can't really talk to you much more about the perspective and the significance of this, because moving forward, it doesn't really mean a lot.”
Despite the overwhelming numbers that tilt toward Tuscaloosa, it’s not a one-man game in college football. This past season’s championship run allowed Saban to wrestle back the title of "best active college football coach" away from the man who beat him a year ago in Urban Meyer.
The Ohio State coach’s year did not go according to script in 2015 despite a vast collection of NFL talent and a championship pedigree on hand.
Still, it’s not hard to see that the pool of national title winners has been decidedly limited as of late.
Is there anybody who can challenge the sport’s top dogs? Here are a few candidates.
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Fisher, a Saban disciple who has successfully taken “the Process” to the ACC, is one of the few coaches in the past decade to have broken through to win a national title.
The Seminoles are annually found in the top 10 when it comes to recruiting, and it appears Fisher is in for the long haul after shunning overtures from other programs recently and getting his yearly salary bumped into the $5 million range.
The question marks surrounding the facilities at FSU are getting answered and the team should once again be in the mix for a playoff spot in 2016. Ring No. 2 only seems like a matter of when—not if—for Fisher.
Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Swinney spoke at length prior to Monday’s game about knowing that the Tigers would be in a national title game when he took the job and had slowly been building toward that moment.
While the team came up just short in a instant classic of a game, it seems pretty clear to everybody in the sport that Dabo has his program in the upper echelon of college football and ready to stay for a long while.
He’s unique in being so trusting with his assistants when it comes to true X’s and O’s compared to some others, but it’s an approach that has worked for him and Clemson.
Given that Deshaun Watson and others return in 2016 and recruiting is going well, it seems likely that Swinney will remain in the playoff conversation for the foreseeable future until, maybe, he returns to his alma mater to take over for Saban one day.
Tom Herman, Houston/???
There was no hotter name on the coaching carousel this offseason than Herman’s, and for good reason. He took a good team and made it great during his first head coaching stop and likely positioned the Cougars to make a serious run at the Top Four next season given who is on their schedule (namely Oklahoma and Louisville).
As Ohio State’s 2015 season proved, he was a big piece of winning a title as an assistant, and the feeling many have is it’s only a matter of time before the guy who simply “gets it” wins one as a head coach.
Given his track record, he could move up the road to Texas after next year, and if that’s the case, he may very well have a program to go on a Saban- or Meyer-like run.
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
The Wolverines exceeded expectations in their conquering hero’s return to Ann Arbor in 2015, and it’s quickly been apparent just how good a coach the former quarterback is when comparing Michigan to the past few years under Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez.
The recruiting is already there and it won’t be long—as in this upcoming season—before playoff talk will begin for Harbaugh and company.
The presence of Meyer in Columbus will provide plenty of challenges, but if there’s somebody with the acumen and drive to match Saban, it’s clearly the man in maize and blue.
David Shaw, Stanford
A spot in the championship game is just about the only thing missing from Shaw’s resume after building a West Coast dynasty at a place where sustained success hasn’t, well, been sustained.
He gets graded a bit on a curve as a result, but it’s not hard to see why the Cardinal will be a team in the national conversation for years and years to come.
Gary Patterson, TCU/Art Briles, Baylor
After this season, it’s pretty clear that these two Big 12 coaches are near the front of the list when it comes to best coaches to have never won a national title.
Still, as evidenced by recent bowl games and recent results, both of these small private school coaches have done a tremendous job without the resources that some of their peers on this list have. If one of them can truly break through and win a national title in a state like Texas, it might be the start of a budding Lone Star dynasty.
One still has to get over the hump, however, and the top dogs in college football show no signs of slowing down.
Both the Buckeyes and Tide appear to be locks to start the next several seasons in the Top 10 based on reputation alone, and for good reason.
There’s still time to decompress from the 2015 season and soak in another title for the sport’s equivalent of title town, but the more things change, it appears the more they stay the same.
“It's not just winning the game. It's not just winning the championship. It's always the goal as a competitor, but there's a lot more things that are very positive in terms of what you try to do internally in your organization to help people, build relationships, and I think that's the fun part of being a part of a team,” Saban added on Tuesday.
But for those outside the high walls surrounding the practice fields in Tuscaloosa and Columbus, the game is mostly just about winning. And right now, it’s very much a two-man game.
Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.