BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - In the midst of the wall-to-wall maelstrom that was the 2007 Southeastern Conference Football Media Days, a horde of television cameramen and print photographers jostled for position in an attempt to capture the most important image from the event.
Suddenly, they thought they saw the object of their fixation crossing the room, surrounded by a smaller group of photographers. Cameras were raised in anticipation. Dozens of sneaker-clad feet shuffled to find the perfect location. Finally, at long last, the big moment had arrived.
Then, just as suddenly, the cameras were lowered and a soft muttering could be heard. The man walking toward them was not the person they wanted. It was not Nick Saban, the new head football coach at the University of Alabama.
And so the waiting continued for the disappointed photographers, as they watched Urban Meyer stroll past instead.
As in, Florida head coach Urban Meyer. As in, the leader of college football’s defending national champions. As in, the man who has the highest winning percentage (.836) among active Division I-A coaches not named Pete Carroll.
On this day in late July, however, that resume was not good enough. On this day, the coach who had the No. 1 team in the land just seven months earlier had to settle for being a distant No. 2 in terms of attention.
Welcome to the world of Nick Saban. Or, as it says on a popular T-shirt in Alabama, Sabanation.
The citizens of Alabama never have been rational when it comes to college football, but the state has gone absolutely Lindsey Lohan over the arrival of Saban from his forgettable stint with the Miami Dolphins. How else to explain an overflow crowd of more than 92,000 showing up for the Crimson Tide’s spring game this year? Even by Alabama standards, that’s nuts.
The Crimson Tide went 6-7 last season and has not won a national championship in 15 years. Yet a number of Alabama fans truly expect Saban to have a 10-victory team this season and be in the BCS title game within three years. And those are the rational fans.
There is no need for Tide fans to roll out the red carpet for Saban, because in their mind, he walks several feet off the ground anyway. Upon his initial arrival in Tuscaloosa, one exuberant woman at the airport grabbed Saban around the neck and kissed his cheek. Children are being told stories about the wonderful Saint Nick that have nothing to do with Christmas.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Tuberville shrugged it all off by saying, “We’ve had success, won games. … If you’ve got that kind of going for you, you really don’t need a lot of publicity.”
Tuberville might as well feel that way, because for now, it’s all Saban all the time. After watching their beloved Tide blow through four coaches in seven years — including Mike Price’s brief five-month stop in Tuscaloosa — the Alabama faithful have thrown all their hopes and dreams behind the man in the Panama hat.
The question is, why are Alabama fans so enamored with Saban? He is certainly a very good coach, with a national championship ring to prove it. Tuberville can’t say the same (although he did lead Auburn to a perfect 13-0 record in 2004).
But Saban’s arrival is being treated in these parts like the second-coming of Paul “Bear” Bryant. Or at least Gene Stallings. You would think from the reaction that Alabama had landed one of the two or three best college coaches in the nation, a perception that simply is not backed up by the numbers.
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