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There is no nice way to say it: The Alabama faithful are done with waiting, with mediocrity and with disappointment. They are sick of Auburn, which has beaten them five years in a row; bone weary of NCAA investigations and probations reaching back to 1993; and finished with coaches who cannot gut out the expectations here, or who might have done well, someday, with more time or a railroad car full of luck.
"We wanted a man who had won a championship, and Nick Saban is that and more," says Moore. "Saban brings a sense of command, a sense of toughness and discipline."
SABAN IS no rainmaker, no snake oil salesman. The way to his mountaintop is hard and paved with woe. "We can be part of something, build something all these people can be proud of and excited about again," says the 55-year-old coach, who can look intense even when he is not mad and probably looks that way holding a kitten. "I got on our guys in a team meeting. I said, 'I'm tired of hearing all this talk about a national championship when you guys don't know how to get in out of the rain, don't know what to do in the classroom.' It's like you've got little kids in the backseat, saying, 'Are we there yet?'
"The journey itself is important, not just the destination. You have to follow direction. Discipline, off-season recruiting, conditioning, practice, more recruiting, player development, classroom development. I'm not interested in what should be, could be, was. I'm interested in what is, what we control. And when we lose—and we will, one game, two, or more—we have to have a trust that what we are doing will work, trust and belief in who we are. And you get where you're going, one mile marker at a time."
People here believe Saban is tough and smart and do not care that he can seem impatient, if not angry, when dealing with the media or hangers-on or just about anybody else, as if he has more important things to do. Like coaching football. In a state where some old men still test their truck's electrical system by grabbing hold of a hot coil wire, football coaches are not supposed to be in touch with their inner child. Saban won a national championship at LSU in 2003, out of a conference where every game can feel like a knife fight in a ditch. No one cares how he did in charm school.
One LSU fan told Alabama fan Sammy Maze that Saban could be, well, a little difficult. "You know he's a son of a bitch?" the LSU fan said.
"Well," Maze said, "he's our son of a bitch now."
Never assume that Alabamans give a damn what others think. "People can write and say that this exemplifies a fanaticism that needs to be curbed," says Fowler, who would have gone to the Tide's intrasquad scrimmage himself if it had not been broadcast live on television. "All Alabama proved, with 92,000 people at a practice, is that nobody loves football better. I don't see how that somehow makes us subhuman. I mean, in some countries they kill soccer players, don't they?"
Saban has yet to coach a down for the Crimson Tide, but people are already naming their children for him. Tim and Hannah Witt of Hartselle, Ala., named their baby boy, born March 20, Saban Hardin Witt. They already had a son named Tyde. "At first I thought my husband was crazy," says Hannah, "but it grew on me."
In these parts you do not name a child for a coach you expect to go 8--5. The Witts had talked at first about naming their second son Bear.