FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Coaches across college football are probably praying that some megalomaniacal NFL owner makes Alabama coach Nick Saban an offer he can’t refuse to return to the NFL. I’m looking at you, Jerry Jones.
The Crimson Tide are positioned to keep on rolling unless Saban leaves the NFL’s 33d franchise for an actual NFL franchise some time soon. He passionately dismissed the idea on Tuesday morning, hours after his team became the first consensus repeat national champions since the 1994 and 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers, saying he was “really happy” and “at peace” at the college level.
“I think somewhere along the line you’ve got to choose,” said Saban, who at 61 has to make the jump back to the league in the next three or four years.
But when it comes to career moves, you have to take anything a coach says with not a grain of salt, but a pound of Sodium Pentothal. They should strap all these guys to lie detectors every time they do a press conference.
It’s easier to say you’re not interested in the NFL, when there are no plum, total power jobs available.
What Saban, who now has won four national titles, three in Tuscaloosa, has built at Alabama is a program par excellence. It is what the Patriots would be if they were a college team, and continually throughout the week Saban referenced his time in Cleveland with Bill Belichick. Wonder what BB thought of his buddy Bon Jovi being down on the Notre Dame sideline rocking Fighting Irish gear?
It was hard not to walk away from Monday night’s 42-14 evisceration of Notre Dame in the BCS national championship game, which gave the Crimson Tide its third national championship in four years, and not wonder if Saban could duplicate this at the NFL level.
Alabama is as finely tuned a team as there is in sports, relative to its level of competition.
With the success of Pete Carroll in Seattle and Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco, college coaches are as hot as ever in the league. The Buffalo Bills just hired Doug Marrone, who went 25-25 at Syracuse. Saban’s choice is between putting a capstone on what he’s built or trying to duplicate it on the pro level.
Deep down does Saban yearn to be remembered as Paul “Bear” Bryant or Belichick?
Dynasty is an overused word in sports. But Saban’s Crimson Tide are like John Wooden’s UCLA basketball teams or Red Auerbach’s Celtics in this regard: They play with purpose, poise, and a pursuit of something greater than the final score — a standard of excellence.
That’s why it will be business as usual Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for Saban. The Gatorade isn’t even dry, and he’s focused on 2013.
“I think it’s pretty special what we’ve accomplished, what the players accomplished, what the coaches accomplished,” said Saban. “I think it’s really special, and one of these days when I’m sitting on the side of a hill watching the stream go by I’ll probably figure it out even more. But what about next year’s team? You’ve got to think about that, too.”
The scary thing about the Alabama team that dismantled top-ranked Notre Dame in the BCS title game is that it only had 17 seniors, and nine of those were scholarship players. It had 31 sophomores, 13 redshirt freshman, and 24 freshman.
After graduating a senior class that went 49-5, these guys could be better next year.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron, who had 30 touchdowns and just three interceptions, will be back for his senior season. Sensational freshman running back T.J. Yeldon and fellow freshman Amari Cooper, who with his two touchdown receptions Monday night set a school record for TD receptions in a season (11), will also return.
There will have to be some reconstruction of the immense offensive line that tattooed its mark on the national championship game.
The Alabama slammers up front allowed the Crimson Tide to carve what had been the nation’s top scoring defense (10.3 points per game) into bite-sized pieces. Alabama rushed for 265 yards, put both Eddie Lacy and Yeldon over 100 yards rushing, and racked up 529 yards of offense against a defense that had not allowed an opponent to accumulate even 400 yards on its way to a 12-0 mark.
It’s the offensive and defensive line play that separates Alabama — and the Southeastern Conference, which has produced the last seven national champions — from the rest of college football. These guys come out of the womb NFL-size.
“They were absolutely by far the biggest, fastest, strongest team we have played,” said Notre Dame linebacker Danny Spond. “That was something that we have prepared for, but, obviously, they took it to us.”
Overheard in the airport security line in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was a dejected Notre Dame fan saying the worst part of Monday night’s game was that if Notre Dame played Alabama 100 times the result would be the same, give or take a touchdown. Can’t say I disagree.
The lasting image of the game is Spond trying to bring down Lacy in the second quarter and getting slammed to the Sun Life Stadium turf by a vicious stiff arm with such force it may have registered on the Richter Scale back in South Bend.
It was a magical season in South Bend. College football is always better when the Golden Domers are part of the discourse, but in hindsight there were probably better opponents for Alabama than the Fighting Irish, who even with a 12-0 record would not have reached the BCS national title game if Oregon and Kansas State didn’t stumble.
The Everett-born, Chelsea-raised Brian Kelly is too good of a coach for this to be a one-and-done situation for the Sons of South Bend.
They’re not the first team to get washed away by the Crimson Tide, and they won’t be the last, assuming Saban is done with the NFL.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.