I have been in office of many coaches -- Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer, Clemson's Tommy Bowden, Oregon's Mike Bellotti, West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez, Virginia's Al Groh, Pitt's Dave Wannstedt and Purdue's Joe Tiller, among others -- over the years.
But, I have to say: Saban's lair probably is the best I've seen. It's expansive, bigger than a Manhattan apartment. It's decked out with a plush couch, ornate chairs and wood tables. A mini trophy symbolic of his 2003 national title with LSU sits on an end table as you enter the room.
And it's a room with a view — two, in fact — one to the weight room and the other to practice fields. Saban reaches for a remote and presses the button. His office door closes. Yeah, pretty sweet, huh?
It shouldn't be any other way for a one of the nation's best coaches, who is running one of the nation's most glamorous programs. This is Bama, buddy. It doesn't get any bigger than this in any sport on the planet. No, that's not an overstatement.
But, you see, Saban has an image problem. He knows perception is reality. And, the perception of Saban nationally ranks somewhere between evil and, well, super evil.
"I take responsibility," says Saban. "I just think who I am is different than who I'm perceived to be. But I also think I'm responsible for that. How you think you are, and how everyone perceives you, is everyone's blind spot. It's what you don't know about yourself. My wife tells me that all of the time."
That's one of the reasons why I'm here. Saban, dressed in gray slacks with a black mock turtle neck emblazed with a small "A' on the chest, wants a mulligan on the start to his Alabama career. It all began to go so wrong with a clandestine courtship with the Bama brass while he was coaching the Miami Dolphins.
"I had a press conference (shortly after the 2006 season ended)," says Saban. "And everyone said Alabama was there to talk to me. I said I hadn't made that decision yet. And I wasn't aware of it because Jimmy (Sexton, Saban's agent) hadn't talked to me all day."
Our conversation drifts to where exactly Saban's image began turning black and blue. He pauses, crosses his legs and ponders.
"I never had a negative image when I was at Michigan State," he says. "Nothing was ever negative at LSU, and it really wasn't negative when I went to Miami."
I think about it, too. And, you know what: He's correct. What is Saban guilty of for the most part? Being intense. His M.O. is blunt and goes something like this: Get out of the way ... and let me coach.
Like many of the greats, Saban overdoses on passion for his profession, exuding a single-minded focus to be the best in the business. And, frankly, that's what he is. Alabama thinks so, paying him $4 million per year in a contract that tilted the mortarboard of every college president.
I could feel Saban's intensity sitting across from him. It's his eyes and commanding voice. We've all known people like him. Physically, he's a small man with boyish looks. He could be the kid down the block. But his name, image and aura loom large. He's a star. And, because of that, Saban believes people fear him.
Saban is trying. Don't be afraid. He won't bite. He is not a monster -- he's just a man who happens to be a helluva football coach. And if you dig beyond the exterior he guards closely, Saban is just like you. He admitted to me that he's a shy guy.
The morning of my meeting with him, Saban appeared on "Good Morning Alabama." It's one of those cornball FOX shows with an over caffeinated host you'd like to punch. There was Saban, trying his best to yuck it up around a breakfast table. In another segment, he tried to teach bump-and-run coverage to the talking heads. I'm guessing the coffee slurping soccer moms in Birmingham loved it.
Saban appeared wooden. And his smiles can best be described as forced. But I've come to the conclusion that that's just him. Saban told me he hasn't changed since his days pumping gas at his father's filling station in the tiny coal mining community of Fairmont, W.Va.
"I'm the same kind of person as that," he says. "I don't treat people any different, I don't talk any different."
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