By Joseph Goodman
Nick Saban has softened since his time with the Dolphins. When the president calls, Saban is the one handing out invitations instead of declining them.
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Saban received a call from President Barack Obama after Alabama’s 37-21 victory over Texas in the BCS national championship game on Thursday night at the Rose Bowl. President Obama congratulated Saban, and the Crimson Tide’s coach invited Obama to Tuscaloosa in the offseason to play some pickup basketball. Making time for heads of state? Maybe Saban really has changed since quitting as the head coach of the Dolphins.
When he was coach of Miami, Saban portrayed an image of a relentless warrior. So focused on his job, Saban declined an invitation to eat lunch with former President George W. Bush. Saban’s snub was met with skeptical reviews. He retreated from his skeptics in 2006 and returned to the college game.
He is back where he belongs, and that should be obvious after No. 1 Alabama’s masterful undefeated season in 2009, which culminated with a convincing victory against No. 2 Texas on Thursday in Rose Bowl Stadium. Alabama is 26-2 the past two seasons.
When Saban left Miami for Alabama he said one of the main reasons he wanted to return to the college game was the opportunity to affect the lives of young men.
That conviction was validated by his players, who said Saban “knows exactly” how to get the best out of his team.
Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram said Saban helps college football players both on the field and off the field to reach their potential.
“In all honesty, I guess when you are driven and you put as much as into what you do as we have not for just this year but for 30-something years, you would hope that something you do leaves a mark that is positive, that maybe could affect someone in a positive way in the future,” Saban said.
The future is the question now. Alabama most likely will begin the 2010 college football season ranked No. 1 nationally. The Crimson Tide (14-0) returns Ingram, freshman running back Trent Richardson, junior quarterback Greg McElroy and sophomore receivers Julio Jones and Marquis Maze. Saban began attempting to lower expectations for next season Friday morning.
“People who make those statements sort of just look at the periphery of, ‘Well, you got Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and the quarterback are coming back there — everything is going to turn up roses,’ ” Saban said. “But that is not necessarily the case. You have to build a team.”
Texas (13-1), which played most of the title game without senior quarterback Colt McCoy, finished the season No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll. Florida (13-1) finished third. The Gators were ranked No. 1 throughout the season before losing to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Championship game.
Boise State (14-0) ended the season ranked fourth. Ohio State was fifth after defeating Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Miami finished 19th. Alabama does lose a considerable amount of talent on defense. Six starters potentially could be gone next season including All-American Terrence Cody and Javier Arenas. Butkus Award winner Rolando McClain and cornerback Kareem Jackson both could be moving to the NFL as juniors.
“Every success brings a new set of problems,” Saban said. “Being able to manage that is what allows you to be successful with more consistency.”