Saban traveled, criticized, triumphant

Spencer White

PASADENA, Calif. – Alabama head coach Nick Saban has never been a man to embrace accomplishment. For the ultimate workaholic, accolades have always served more as a distraction than as badges to be worn with pride.

This is such a defining part of Saban’s nature that even in the wake of the Crimson Tide’s 37-21 victory over the Texas Longhorns in the BCS Championship game, a win that secures Alabama’s 13th national title and Saban’s second, the coach was the first to state his excitement for everyone else associated with the University.

“I’m really happiest for all the other people to see them so happy about what was accomplished,” Saban said.

It still remains that it was not the fanbase, administration or assistant coaches who accomplished a first in FBS history. It was Saban, who became the first head coach to capture BCS titles at two different schools.

The former LSU coach, who led the Bayou Bengals to a national title in 2003, was heavily criticized after leaving the Miami Dolphins to take the head football coach job in Tuscaloosa, especially in his former stomping grounds of Baton Rouge, La.

Some called it hatred. Others called it envy. With the Tide’s victory Thursday night, the latter has become more obvious to an observer.

Perhaps lost in the euphoria of the Tide’s victory at the sight of so many former triumphs for the heralded program, the Rose Bowl, is another first for Alabama. Thursday night’s victory over the Longhorns marks the first occasion on which the Tide has defeated Texas in football, holding a 0-7-1 record in their eight previous meetings.

Just another day on the job for Saban, the blue-collar ball coach who has revitalized a Tide program that had nearly become used to mediocrity and a dusty trophy case.

“He’s just a coach that is driven,” said Mark Ingram, the running back recruited by Saban who became the Tide’s first Heisman Trophy winner in his sophomore year. “He influences college athletes and high school athletes to buy into his system and not only develop characteristics that will help them in football, but in life too.”

It is part of a journey that has been a long one for the man from the hills of West Virginia, the son of a gas station owner and a boy who dreamed of one day owning his own car dealership.

“When I was a young boy I didn’t even know I wanted to be a coach,” Saban said. “I think that I was probably driven to try to be as good as I could be at whatever I tried to do.”

And thanks to the meteoric rises he has orchestrated now at two separate SEC schools, all within the last decade, there is a difficult argument to be made that Saban has not only accomplished his goals, but exceeded them.

But don’t look for him to take all the credit for it.

“I don’t think you ever really envision this kind of success,” Saban said. “Any success we’ve had and been able to accomplish is because we put a lot into it, worked hard and had a lot of good people around us who also contribute.”