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Changing of the Tide

Nick Saban isn't out to make friends, just win games

Posted: Monday April 9, 2007 2:39PM; Updated: Monday April 9, 2007 2:40PM
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After a brief stint with the Dolphins, Nick Saban returns to the college game, where he has enjoyed great success.
After a brief stint with the Dolphins, Nick Saban returns to the college game, where he has enjoyed great success.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- New Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn't have time for you. Or me. Or anyone that's not one of the 85 or so football players he's trying to turn into champions (or the prospective recruits he'd like to add to those 85). Thus, he treats the rest of his world -- assistants, support staff, the media -- accordingly.

During a two-day visit to Alabama last week, I watched college football's first $4 million man patronize his team's beat writers throughout a 10-minute press conference, dress down a school official ("I don't have time for this s---," he barked) and blow off our pre-arranged interview.

I left town certain of two things: That Nick Saban is every bit the jerk he's made out to be -- and that he's exactly what the doctor ordered for the Alabama football program.

After drifting in mediocrity for the better part of 15 years, enduring two rounds of NCAA sanctions and cycling through five different coaches this decade alone, the SEC's most storied program finally has a strong, unquestioned leader. Not Mike Shula. Not Mike DuBose. Nick Saban.

"The day we heard he was coming, all the guys were like, 'This is our year,' " said senior receiver D.J. Hall. "We've got the players. Now we've got a strong, powerhouse coach that really knows what he's doing."

There's little doubt Saban will not only win, but win big, in a short amount of time at Alabama. His 48-16 record, two SEC titles and 2003 national championship at LSU -- a school that had gone 7-15 the two seasons prior to his arrival -- serve as pretty strong testimony.

But boy, is he going to take some getting used to.

No fan base in the country loves their team quite as rabidly and obsessively as Alabama fans, but in the post-Bear Bryant era, that hasn't always been a good thing. No one gossips, spreads rumors or gets their team put on probation quite like them, either.

That's not going to happen under Saban, mainly because almost no one outside of the program will be given access to his inner-sanctum (and the few that do will presumably be too petrified of the guy to cross him). Last Friday, for instance, Alabama held its first spring scrimmage, an event of considerable curiosity throughout this football-thirsty state. About 15 reporters and five television cameras were on hand to document the occasion.

The notoriously paranoid coach, however, had decided beforehand to close all but about eight minutes of pre-scrimmage warm-up drills to the media. While other schools around the country routinely close their scrimmages (Michigan, Notre Dame and Penn State, to name a few), a couple of 'Bama beat writers speculated it to be the Tide's first closed scrimmage since Bear Bryant secretly installed the wishbone in the early '70s.

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