NEW ORLEANS - In many ways, especially winning percentage, they are similar.
But in just as many ways, they are different.
One is corporate. One is almost cuddly.
One seems to make decisions based on instinct, which to many are inexplicable. One seems to make decisions that are computer-generated, backed up with statistics.
Which is why tomorrow night’s BCS title game at the Superdome between No. 1 Louisiana State and No. 2 Alabama will be as much about what happens on the sidelines as what happens on the field.
For LSU coach Les Miles (he’s the cuddly one) and Alabama’s Nick Saban, there is no disputing their success.
Saban has won two national championships at two schools, at LSU in 2003 and at Alabama in 2009.
Miles has won one national championship (2007), a pair of Southeastern Conference titles, and has established the Tigers as arguably one of the best teams in the history of college football - provided, of course, they beat the Crimson Tide for a second time this season.
To be sure, both coaches are compensated well. Saban makes nearly $5 million a year, while Miles makes almost $4 million per season.
“Well, from my perspective, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Les,’’ said Saban. “I like him. We do have occasions where we visit at meetings and different things like that.
“And I think he has some great perspective . . . it’s important to him how we all sort of team up to try and make college football better for our football players. And I think we have a common denominator there that I have a lot of respect for him because of that.’’
That answer to a question about the rivalry between two coaches was pure Saban. To the point, but said without almost any emotion.
Ask Saban whether he is enjoying the ride and he replies, “I think it depends on how you sort of categorize enjoyment. I enjoy the competition. I enjoy the fact that our team has an opportunity to play in such a competitive venue. I enjoy the work of trying to get the team ready to play the way they’re going to need to play to have an opportunity to be successful.
“It’s very challenging. So that’s my enjoyment of this experience. Now maybe your perception of enjoyment is you go out and have a party. Well, that’s not my enjoyment of this experience. Putting the team together, putting the plan together to have an opportunity to play a great team and see if you can be successful, that’s my enjoyment. So that’s my fun. It may not be other people’s fun.’’
In that way, Miles at times can be the polar opposite. Oh, he enjoys the competition and putting together a winning program, but there is another side of Miles, one Saban doesn’t have or doesn’t let anyone outside his inner circle see.
There is Miles the Mad Hatter, who coaches on instinct rather than percentages, such as the time he went for it on fourth down five times against Florida in 2007.
There is the Miles who on Friday nights before home games has been known to play catch with his children on the field of an empty Tiger Stadium.
Following Saban at LSU has not been easy, but in seven years Miles clearly has developed his own identity comfort level.
When asked at media day about what he was enjoying during this intense week of preparation, Miles said, “Right now, there’s no enjoyment. I promise you that when we take the field, I will be preparing to enjoy myself for that evening.
“And we enjoy practice. Here’s what we don’t enjoy. I don’t know where my room is half the time. I don’t know where my shoes are the other half. I don’t know about my pens. There’s all those little insignificant things that you don’t enjoy when they change your environment. Other than that, I enjoy my time, generally.’’
And, just as with Saban, those times have generally produced positive results. Both are clearly the faces of their programs.
“It starts with the engine,’’ said Alabama wide receiver Brandon Gibson, “and Coach Saban is our engine.’’Mark Blaudschun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.