Senior College Football Columnist

Saban doing all he can, whenever he can to keep Bama focused


HOOVER, Ala. -- The way Nick Saban tells it, they were slackers, a disappointment to their school and their coach.

Alabama's coach doesn't use those exact words, but his 2010 team sticks out so much in the current climate, that it's obvious: They're the ones that didn't work hard enough. They're the ones that didn't follow up. They're the ones that keep 2013 from being a run at five in a row.

Those bums that featured the defending Heisman winner (Mark Ingram), a quarterback currently with eight championship rings (AJ McCarron) and future All-Americans won only 10.

"Complacency is always an issue," Saban said Thursday at the SEC media days. "It's part of the human condition."

The human condition is not accepted in Tuscaloosa, never mind complacency. Saban trotted out a few of his latest cyborgs for the media Thursday -- McCarron, Anthony Steen and C.J. Mosley -- announcing to the world (without really announcing it) that resistance is useless.

Complacency? Well, it's a given that anything less than a third straight national championship and four in five years would be a failure. Ask those dogs who had the temerity to go 10-3 in '10, ending a 19-game winning streak in the process.

"After we won that many games it got very, very difficult for those players to deal with that success," Saban said. "And I do think it affected them."

True freshmen on that team -- those same "slackers", "dogs" and "bums" -- are now chasing their third consecutive title. Their place in history has improved somewhat, having gone 25-2 since then.

"You always have to reinvent your team," Saban said. "Even this year I've watched this team progress to -- maybe [complacency] being an issue in the offseason program -- to kind of a bit of an issue in spring practice to where I see a lot more maturity."

In Sabanspeak, that's the equivalent of clicking his heels in the air.

Other than Saban, only Tom Osborne, Barry Switzer, Pete Carroll, Bud Wilkinson, Frank Leahy, Bear Bryant and a handful of the other coaches have stood at the brink of three consecutive national championships in the wire service era.

"Coach Saban doesn't say it's a dynasty, so I'm not going to say it's a dynasty," quarterback AJ McCarron said. "We know what we've achieved. We don't need one word to describe what we've accomplished."

Here's a word: Obsessed. Here's another: Driven. On Thursday, Saban opened up just a little. Gave us a look inside. The man is always on. So much so that he admitted to barely turning off his phone during vacation.

"Maybe 90 percent of the day I can do what I want to do," he said. "But I'm going to do what I have to do that 10 percent of the day to keep things going in the right direction."

That includes checking in on academic meetings and taking calls from recruits. Must have been a heck of a visit to Disneyland when the kids were small.

"The Process is ever evolving," the coach said. "When it works there is some satisfaction. The key to the drill is you have to continue it. It's always a work in progress. You might have it for that moment, but tomorrow it's something else."

The Process, the team and the man are so established the coach doesn't have to wear his stockpile of championship rings.

"Because I let the players design them and they're about as big as ashtrays," Saban said. "Michael Jordan said it doesn't matter how many game-winning shots you make, the only one that matters is the next one."

You probably don't have to be told that Saban barely rested following January's triumph over Notre Dame.

"Probably that night," said a coach who, at this rate, is becoming the greatest of all time.

If the sport needed a reminder this week at the SEC media days, college football is on alert once again. It's Alabama against the field. The Tide's run has superseded the conference's run.

Worst/best of all –- depending on your viewpoint -- the Tide are loaded again. They have to be. Saban said the 2010 team had at least as much talent as the championship teams of 2009, 2011 and 2012. McCarron already is a walking, talking College Football Hall of Famer (seriously, someday), with three championship rings. Not bad for a preseason third-team SEC quarterback (behind Johnny Manziel and Aaron Murray).

Even if the defense doesn't lead the nation in scoring and total defense like it did in '12, it won't drop to, say, 50th. If it does, there's going to be a miserable down time next summer.

"You can only minimize when you go on vacation, the obligation and responsibility that you have," Saban said, "but you can't just leave it."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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