Nick Saban stepped off the plane into icy Indianapolis with a look that caught the attention of his players.
Somehow, the 70-year-old continues to find ways to relate to guys young enough to be his grandchildren.
This time it was a leather bomber jacket.
“His jacket was very cool,” Alabama security Jordan Battle said. “I haven’t seen Coach Saban in such a style. Seeing that he has a little booty, that puts a little joy in my heart.
Saban may come across as an adamant grumpy, but he really is more of a chameleon – forever transforming, forever remodeling, forever making himself relevant to those who play for him, regardless of the generation gap.
This is why, after all these years and well beyond retirement age, he remains the most dominant figure in college football.
That’s why, as his mighty Alabama dynasty braced for a rematch against Georgia in another national championship game on Monday night, he shows no signs of slowing down.
Bryce Young, his Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, said the key to Saban’s greatness is “how he has adjusted over the years.”
“The game has changed since he started coaching. said Young. “The players, the landscape of college football, college football in general, has changed.”
That certainly changed for the Crimson Tide during Saban’s 15 years in Tuscaloosa.
He’s a defensive coach at heart, someone who would just win every game 10-7. Indeed, this philosophy worked very well early in his tenure in Alabama, as he began to win national championships at a rate that would surpass anyone who has ever coached the game.
Just ten years ago, his title-winning team led the nation in all major defensive categories, allowing just 8.2 points per game.
But the sport has evolved a lot since then, and Saban has come for the ride.
His 2020 squad won all 13 games to give Saban his sixth national title in Alabama and the record-breaking seventh championship of his career, while allowing nearly 20 points per game. In two of the wins, the Crimson Tides allowed over 40 points.
“For him being able to adapt multiple times in his career is not easy for guys who have been doing it for so long,” Young said. “And for him to have all the success he’s had and to always be able to adapt and kind to change the way he goes about everything, we see that. We recognize that, and that means a lot to us.
This year’s team needed a particularly skillful touch. While blessed with their usual plethora of five-star rookies, Saban’s squad were not as deep or dominant as in other years.
The Tide lost to Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M, the first time Saban tasted defeat against one of his former assistants. They struggled to beat Florida, LSU and Arkansas. They looked down on Auburn before a mind-blowing rally culminated with a 24-22 win in fourth overtime.
Rather than berating his team, Saban faced off against Bama’s fickle fan base. In a memorable tirade on his weekly radio show, he lambasted “all self-centered people who cannot look beyond themselves to appreciate what other people are doing.”
“Our players are working hard to be the best they can be,” said Saban. “To be criticized for what they work hard to do, so that you can be entertained, so that you can enjoy and have pride and passion for what they do and what they do. And they are not perfect. They are only students.
It was another masterful coaching from Saban, who made it clear to his players that he was supporting them.
They returned the favor with two of their best performances of the season, breathtaking at the time. 1 Georgia 41-24 in the Southeastern Conference Championship game and defeated unbeaten Cincinnati 27-6 in the Cotton Bowl semi-final game.
“It’s getting better and better with generations,” Battle said. “He fits in very well with us. He is very comfortable talking to us. He is very comfortable with us.
No matter how much he bends, Saban’s word is always final. Anyone who shies away from his authority is guaranteed a very short stay in Tuscaloosa. But the relationship seems to work with most players, perhaps because no one comes to campus with any illusions.
“Some coaches can make recruiting promises to you,” said Young, a Californian who became Saban’s highest-rated quarterback ever. “When you start to hear these promises, it starts to become a bit of a red flag.
“Coach Saban has always been direct with me. He never promised me anything. He only promised me competitive opportunities. He told me from the start of recruiting that this is not a place for everyone and exactly the type of player and person he was looking for and knows how to thrive in this organization. He was the person and the player I strive to be.
Also, don’t forget about her fashion sense.
“The coach’s jacket was nice,” Young said, delivering his own review of Saban’s arrival outfit to Indy. “The coach is always going to step into something we’ve never seen before as a team. So that’s to be expected.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and find his work at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
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