You know college football season is close but still not quite here when Nick Saban addresses a roomful of media and is relaxed.
OK, relatively relaxed. Still
No dressing down of any reporters as if they'd just blown a coverage on third-and-2.
No angry tangets or agendas.
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Saban didn't even go off when someone asked him about Jonathan Taylor, whose signing at Alabama and subsequent dismissal brought Saban a heavy dose of criticism.
Saban's opening monologue recently at SEC media days included pleasantries for the gathered media and even a glimpse of his softer side -- again, all things relative -- of being the father of the bride.
"Maybe you haven't had the opportunity to have a daughter get married, but that was a marvelous experience," Saban said.
He ended his turn at the podium by thanking reporters for their coverage of college football. Well, technically, he said "promoting." Covering, promoting just a matter of perspective. Still, it's nice to be appreciated once in a while.
"I think there's a lot of positive things done in college football, and all that you do to recognize some of the great things that these young student-athletes do is certainly appreciated. You've always done a fantastic job of that, and I don't want you to think that it goes unnoticed, and we certainly do appreciate it and appreciate you. So thank you very much."
Is this the softening of Nick Saban? Nah. Just wait until a reporter dares to suggest that the Crimson Tide's first home game, which will be against mighty Middle Tennessee State, is a breather and a tuneup for Bama's SEC opener the next week against Ole Miss.
This is the time of year coaches love. Their batteries, drained from a season of intense preparation followed by relentless recruiting, are fully recharged. Aside from a few speaking engagements, there's not much to do other than prepare for the season at hand. Contrary to what many fans think, coaches don't coach to win. Oh, sure. They understand that job security comes from winning. And they detest losing far more than the most myopic fan.
But winning is merely the result of the two things they love to do the most -- teach the game and build teams. Teaching and building are what continue to drive Saban and keep him young at 63 and hungry despite having four national championship rings. He has bemoaned how the popularity of the hurry up, no huddle offense has made it more difficult to coach defense because it limits opportunity to substitute.
"Being an old NFL guy, the way you play defense in the NFL is you play a lot of specialty defense because everything is based on situations," Saban said. "What pace of play has done to the college game does not allow you to do that. So you have to basically play the same players in every situation because, if you do play situation defense and you're allowed to sub in that particular situation, you can't get the players out of the game."
Yet, Saban is the ultimate competitor. He might not ever admit it publically, but deep down he loves the challenge. He doesn't give any credence to the suggestion that the game is passing him by. He knows that what worked in 2011 won't work as well in 2015. So he's recruiting more versatile defensive players. Offseason strength and conditioning is geared more toward increasing stamina.
"You can't recruit as many specialty players," Saban said. "You have to be able to match up in all circumstances and situations with team that actually play that way, which is more difficult. I don't think there's any question about the fact that it's more difficult to play defense, and I think that's why you see more points being scored, and I don't think that trend's going to change any time soon."
What might change this season is Alabama's offense. Last year under Lane Kiffin, the Tide became one of those no-huddle teams he has detested. That was out of necessity. It's what worked best for his quarterback, Blake Sims.
Saban hinted that he'd like to return to a more tradition power running game on offense. That doesn't mean he's going to scrap the no huddle. But he would like to control the pace a little more. The most reliable way to do that is with a power running game. He wants his offense to stay on the field more. Starting with Arkansas, opponents ran more plays than Alabama in five of the last six SEC games -- a 91-play difference in the Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn games.
"I think we have to manage the season better with our team because I think at the end of the season last year, we ran out of gas a little bit," Saban said. "We played more plays and out players showed it. So we're going to have to to do a better job of keeping our team where they need to be so that we can finish strong."
This is an intriguing time for Alabama. There are two disparate perceptions. One of a continuing dynasty. Many have picked the Tide to meet Ohio State in the national championship game. The other perception is of a program on the descent. One radio talk show host dared to predict the Tide would lose five games this season. That seems rather comical, but that schedule is brutal, probably the toughest Saban has ever faced.
For the fans, the college football season begins in six weeks. For Saban, the fun begins in about eight days.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@guerryclegg.