FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- On Tuesday morning it was Nick Saban's task to meet with the media one last time and to accept all of the hardware that comes with being a BCS national champion -- for the third time in four years.
When the photo session began, Saban stopped the cameras in mid-shutter.
"I would like to have Mal up here with me," Saban said.
It was not a request.
Mal Moore is Alabama's athletics director. And no man alive has more Crimson running through his veins. Moore played on Bear Bryant's first Alabama team in 1958. As a player and a coach he was with Bryant for 24 years. Only when Bryant died in 1983 did Moore leave Alabama and take a coaching job at Notre Dame, which Alabama beat 42-14 Monday night for the BCS title.
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Moore returned to Alabama in 1994 as an assistant athletics director. He then took over the department in 1999.
Saban, who has built a dynasty (he doesn't like the word but that is what Alabama is right now) over the past six years, certainly deserves the lion's share of the credit for the Crimson Tide's incredible run of success. But he will be the first to tell you that it never would have happened without the steady hand of Moore, a former coach, making sure that Saban had the resources he needed.
"The support structure at Alabama is second to none," Saban said. "Together we look at what we need to be consistently competitive at the highest level. That doesn't happen by accident. You have to have people like Mal and our president, Dr. [Robert] Witt."
It was Moore, now 73, who knew that Alabama was not going to return to prominence without a forceful coach who could unify an alumni base that often spoke with way too many voices. Moore was persistent in his pursuit of Saban, even when Saban said no. So eventually getting Saban to say yes ranks up there with Moore's greatest accomplishments.
But Moore also knew Saban would need more tools if he was going to be successful for the long haul. The SEC had become much more competitive than in the years (1958-82) when Bryant dominated. In the 25 years after Bryant's death in 1983, Alabama developed a tendency to rest on its laurels from the Bryant era. The school did not and would not upgrade its facilities, thinking that Bryant's legacy was enough to carry the day.
"The fact is that when it came to facilities we had the worst of everything," Moore said. "We had to convince our people that we were way behind and that it was time to get building."
Moore launched a campaign to spend hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading facilities throughout the campus. Bryant-Denny Stadium underwent two massive renovations in 2006 ($47 million) and 2010 ($65.6 million) to put it over 100,000 capacity. "The idea is that you have to be forward thinking in your approach and keep finding ways to improve the experience of the student athlete and to help them meet their goals," Saban said.
And the building continues. This month Alabama will complete a state-of-the-art, 34,000 square feet football strength and conditioning facility at a cost of $9 million.
"One of the things I learned when I left Alabama [in 1982] is that you can't rest on your laurels," Moore said. "If you wait until you absolutely need something, then it's too late. You're behind."
This financial commitment has a direct bearing on recruiting and recruiting, obviously, has a direct bearing on winning. And now Saban clearly has the Alabama program built for the long haul.
Consider this small window into the recruiting process for Saban. In 2009 running back Mark Ingram won the Heisman Trophy. Trent Richardson from Pensacola, Fla., perhaps the best high school running back in the country, was his backup. When Ingram went to the NFL after the 2010 season, Richardson became No. 1. As a junior in 2011 Richardson was the feature back and Eddie Lacy was his backup. Richardson helped lead Alabama to a national championship then he became the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft. Lacy moved to No. 1 this season and was backed up by freshman T.J. Yeldon, who went over 1,000 yards and was the No. 9 rusher in the SEC.
After his performance Monday night (140 yards) Lacy, a junior, surely will turn pro and Yeldon will move to No. 1. In February, Alabama is expected to sign Derrick Henry of Yulee, Fla. And what did Henry do this season? He finished his high school career with 11,612 yards, breaking the national record set by Ken Hall of Sugar Land, Texas, (1950-53) that had stood for almost 60 years.
And so the beat goes on. With the necessary financial backing, Saban has now built a program where high school All-Americans are willing to bide their time because of the payoff that is coming at the end of his "process." Prominently displayed in this season's Alabama media guide is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell with the Crimson Tide's four first-round draft choices from the 2011 team. Do you think that has an impact on an 18-year-old?
Saban now has four BCS championship rings (one at LSU, three at Alabama). What will he do with them?
"I will probably put them on the coffee table for the recruits to see," he said.
Bet it's a real nice coffee table.
All of this is why the idea that Saban is going back to the NFL at some point is silly talk. Saban tried the NFL and, by his own admission, didn't have the kind of impact he wanted. Saban learned that his style is much better suited to college kids who will listen to him because of his track record. In short, Saban has spent the past six years building the perfect, self-sustaining house. He is not about to walk away and give the keys to someone else.
And did we mention that Alabama is the No. 1 favorite at 5 to 1 to win the national championship in 2013?