Forget preseason hoopla, the Alabama coach is only happy when he’s hoisting the crystal football in January.
So when the media predicted Saban’s Crimson Tide to win the SEC title this season, the coach scoffed at the notion.
“It seems almost a little bit crazy to try to predict what's going to happen in the season,” said Saban, who added a jab at the media’s expense. “I'd also like to make a note here that in the last 21 seasons, you as the media have only picked the right team four times to win the SEC. Now, if I was 4-17 as a coach, I would be back in West Virginia pumping gas at my daddy's gas station.”
Saban, who was in Hoover for SEC Media Days on Thursday, isn’t in danger of going 4-17 anytime soon. Alabama is 61-7 over the last five years and is vying for its third straight national championship — something that hasn’t been accomplished since the days of leather helmets.
Alabama shut out LSU in New Orleans in the 2011 BCS Championship game and the Tide hammered Notre Dame in Miami in last year’s BCS Championship game.
Rather than talk about playing for yet another BCS title, Saban mentioned what it will take for this year’s team to succeed.
“We're obviously proud of what our team was able to accomplish last year and the year before, but we also learned that there are five or six plays that can sort of define your season and make a difference. I could go back to last season and say the two-minute drive against LSU, not scoring on fourth-and-two against Texas A&M, Georgia blocking the field goal in the SEC Championship game and getting up 21-10, were big plays. I mean, fundamentally we didn't execute in some of those circumstances,” Saban said.
Alabama had nine players selected in this year’s NFL draft, including three in the first 11 picks.
Replacing that kind of talent is Saban’s top priority heading into next month’s season opener against Virginia Tech in Atlanta.
“It's a challenge each year to reinvent your team. You always lose good players. You always lose about 25 percent of your team in college. So it creates new opportunities for other players who may not have the same experience. It also creates new roles for players who have been a part of the team, but now maybe have to assume a little different role,” Saban said.
The Tide may have lost plenty of NFL talent, but an abundance remains on the roster, including senior quarterback A.J. McCarron, who is 25-2 as a starter, and receiver Amari Cooper, who set Alabama freshmen records with 59 catches for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, and T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for 1,000 yards as a freshman.
Alabama’s defense is led by senior linebacker C.J. Mosley, who put off an NFL career for one more year despite leading the Tide with 107 tackles last year.
Saban is counting on McCarron and Mosley to be leaders and set the tone for this year’s squad.
“To have the leadership on your team, to set a good example for others, is very important to being successful. Be someone that somebody else wants to emulate. Inspire someone who maybe doesn't have the same attitude,” Saban said. “Those things are critical to having the kind of team chemistry that you need to be successful, to stay focused on what you want to accomplish and the commitment that every individual has to make. That's the challenge that we have for this season.”
Despite Saban’s success, he doesn’t welcome comparisons to legendary coach Bear Bryant.
When asked about the parallels, Saban was quick to brush off the idea.
“I don't think there is any reason that anybody should (make the comparison). I think Bear Bryant is probably the greatest coach in college football in terms of what he accomplished and what his legacy is. I think the biggest thing that impacts me is how many peoples' lives he affected in a positive way,” Saban said.
“There's no way that we have done anything close to what he's done in terms of his consistency over time. They threw the ball and won. They ran the wishbone and won. I mean, he changed tremendously to do what he needed to do to be successful. I don't think that it would be fair that anyone really be compared to what he was able to accomplish, the way he did it, and how he impacted other people.”
Bryant won six national championships and 13 SEC titles in his 25-year tenure as the Alabama football coach.
Saban is shooting for his fourth national title at Alabama starting next month.