Live Twitter feed of Florida vs. Alabama – SEC Championship
2009 SEC Championship Florida vs. Alabama
From Dave Hyde / Sacbee.com
ATLANTA — This was the Nick Saban we miss. He spent a few suit-and-tie moments Friday in the Georgia Dome thanking the media for all the, “positive self-gratification,” as he said in one of his phrasing quirks, it gave his players this season.
Then someone asked if one of Saban’s Alabama freshmen had, “met your expectations.” That’s all it took. That word. Expectations. Another quirk.
“Obviously, you don’t cover our team,” Saban said.
He stared at the reporter for an extended second.
“I guess I’d better explain,” he said. “You all create expectations. We don’t. It’s a disservice. We just take the player and coach him. That’s it. We spend part of the time trying to get him to not listen to the expectations for himself that you all put on him.”
Next question, the face on his look said.
And the next question is what it always has been: Was he being funny here? Smug? A jerk?
It always was hard to read Saban in his Dolphins seasons, right to his walk out the door. But that’s not the point here. Nor is the point he remains full of pithy Saban-isms, such as his, “paradox of success. You become successful enough to play big games that can ruin your success.”
Here’s the point: He’s winning enough to put up with in Alabama. And don’t say winning doesn’t allow odd behavior. It allows everything in today’s sports world. And of all the things you could say about Saban – cold, arrogant, deceitful – no one who saw him work said he couldn’t coach.
His team is 12-0. It’s ranked No. 2. It plays Florida for the second consecutive year in this coin-flip of a Southeastern Conference Championship/national championship game.
Saban’s three years haven’t been painless. He lost to Louisiana-Monroe the first year, after all. But the only thing standing between him and a good SEC run appears to be Florida’s Urban Meyer. Maybe.
That’s part of the intrigue of today. Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin had the zinger of the pre-game hype, saying in his thorn-in-Florida’s-side manner: “Florida has the better players and Alabama has the better coaches.”
Meyer’s two national titles and 22 consecutive wins need no defending. Of course. But the dynamics remain interesting in a way that gets back to coaching.
Florida’s star defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap was suspended this week for drunk driving. Alabama’s star running back Mark Ingram was removed in last week’s game with an injury.
“This is a little like a title fight, all the talent, all the little unknowns,” Saban said.
Take Florida’s offense. The big difference in the teams is at quarterback, where Tim Tebow gives the Gators an edge. But Saban obviously has spent hours dating to the offseason examining this offense.
When asked if that was the case, he said, “There are some questions you shouldn’t answer.”
Of course, he did allow he’s counted 162 different Florida formations.
“They don’t even run 162 different plays,” he said. “But it’s the way they present the plays is the point.”
The Xs and Os are one thing. What Saban said he missed about college was the relationships. At Alabama, players come to his home, just like they did at LSU. When a player was involved in a misdemeanor domestic issue last summer, he required the player to talk with police counselors and ride with policemen to see the impact of other domestic issues.
In Tuscaloosa, he’s treated like the second coming of Bear Bryant, even if he doesn’t have a title yet. That’s what today is about. Can he get by Florida? Or does Meyer become his personal roadblock?
“Hopefully, we learned a few things last year about what it takes to get to a championship game and what else it takes to win a championship,” Saban said.
Saban pointed down at his leg. It was jiggling up and down, up and down, under the table. He’s nervous already, he was saying.
“We understand all the love we get is conditional on one thing – we win the game,” he said.
He didn’t need the Dolphins years to see that. But his Alabama time confirms it. He can be a handful to put up with. But if his hand is full of a trophy, it won’t matter to Alabama fans at all.