By Ralph D. Russo/The Associated Press
Plenty of other coaches do what Nick Saban does. They preach about the process, focus on getting better every day instead of the trophies and championships that await, and want their players to be accountable.
Thing is, Saban does it all better.
He’s the best in the business, and just in case anybody had forgotten that fact after a long offseason, the Crimson Tide’s 41-14 throttling of Michigan on Saturday night was a less-than-gentle reminder.
It would be easy to say the Tide was stunningly good, but there is simply no reason to be surprised at this point.
“His plan, his philosophy, offseason conditioning, attention to detail,” said former Arkansas and Mississippi coach Houston Nutt, who matched up against Saban for years in the Southeastern Conference and is now working as an analyst for the CBS Sports Network. “Right now there’s not a better team, that’s coached as well fundamentally, that’s as tough, as Alabama. All the ingredients, I don’t know there is anyone better.
“It’s the same recipe and it’s been proven year after year after year after year after year of having really good success.”
No need to worry about the Tide’s rebuilt defense. Cornerback Dee Milliner, safety Vinnie Sunseri and linebacker Trey DePriest are new starters, but have plenty of experience and all showed up at Alabama with at least three recruiting stars.
They have spent the last year or two being molded into disciplined playmakers by Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, running a 3-4 defense that is no more exotic than it needs to be.
On offense, it is power running, balanced with efficient passing. And if the Tide needs to pass more than it runs, that’s just fine. Alabama came out throwing on first down against LSU in the BCS championship game because Saban felt his offense was too predictable in the first meeting — a 9-6 loss.
And there’s nothing wrong with predictable when Mark Ingram is carrying the ball. Or Trent Richardson. Or Eddie Lacy (35 yards and a touchdown against Michigan). Or, now, freshman T.J. Yeldon (111 yards and a TD on 11 carries). The machine keeps on humming.
No coach and coaching staff is better at identifying talented players, and convincing them to attend their school. Since 2008, the first year Saban had time to fully recruit a class, the Tide’s recruiting classes have been ranked No. 1 in the country by Rivals.com four times. The other class ranked fifth.
When he gets them to Tuscaloosa, they almost inevitably reach their potential.
Again, there’s no magic. No secret formula.
Walk into any powerhouse program and you will find state-of-the-art facilities, academic centers and weight rooms. You’ll find a strength-and-conditioning coach who is part physiologist and part drill sergeant. A nutritionist working on training table menus.
Saban is not the only coach who brings in motivational speakers, who might call in a sports psychologist to help a player tap into the confidence necessary to play college football at the highest level.
All coaches insist that their players worry only about doing their job — on the field and off.
The difference is, Saban’s players listen. They trust the process, because they trust Saban.
“From the outside, Nick comes across as gruff, tough, don’t talk to me,” Nutt said. “He’s really not like that. He’s actually a players’ coach. Talk to guys like Trent Richardson. They believe in this guy and know he looks out for his players.”
Saban will be paid about $5.3 million by Alabama this year. His contract runs through the 2019 season. He is 56-12 since arriving in Tuscaloosa and six of those loses came in Year 1. The Tide has won two of the last three national championships and will contend for another this season at the very least.
Saban wants no part of his team being called defending champions. Each team starts from scratch.
“This team had a challenge of trying to create an identity for itself,” Saban said after the demolition of Michigan. “That happens over time and happens with consistency in performance.”
Every coach preaches against complacency. Saban has effectively eliminated it from Alabama football.
“When people have success there’s a tendency to sigh. It’s human nature to take a deep breath and relax a little bit,” Nutt said. “He doesn’t do that.”
At some point, Saban will have a down year. It happens. In 2002, he went 8-5 with LSU. Then won the national title the next year.
Saban turns 61 on Halloween and looks about 10 years younger. Now that’s scary for the rest of the SEC. Really for the rest of college football.
Because as long as he is at Alabama, the Crimson Tide set the standard for excellence in college football.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP