Crim­son Tide re­spond when Nick says ‘Next’

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - WALLY HALL Read Wally Hall’s SPORTS BLOG Wal­ly­

HOOVER, Ala. — Nick Sa­ban is a com­pli­cated per­son.

He and his wife have a foun­da­tion, Nick’s Kids. Maybe it is a tax write-off, but it also helps kids. He once reached out to an Alabama stu­dent from Arkansas who was ill, and she had noth­ing to do with foot­ball.

Yet, Google his name and 11 pic­tures will pop up; he’s def­i­nitely not smil­ing in nine of them.

Wed­nes­day morn­ing — with a mob of fans in the lobby of the Hy­att Ho­tel, home (for now) of SEC foot­ball me­dia days — Sa­ban took the podium and talked about the great chal­lenge fac­ing Alabama foot­ball as it re­places seven de­fen­sive play­ers who were drafted.

The venue was stand­ing-room

only for Sir Nick, and it is highly doubt­ful any­one felt sorry for him be­cause when you have the No. 1 re­cruit­ing class ev­ery year, a coach lit­er­ally says “Next” when a player leaves.

A lit­tle more than a decade ago, Sa­ban de­clared em­phat­i­cally that he was not leav­ing the Mi­ami Dol­phins to coach Alabama. Since then, he’s 114-19 as the di­rec­tor of al­most all things Crim­son Tide. He’s 66-12 in SEC play, but be­cause of NCAA vi­o­la­tions that oc­curred be­fore he ar­rived, Alabama had to va­cate five to­tal wins from his first sea­son in 2007. Of those five, three are SEC games, so tech­ni­cally he’s won more than 89 per­cent of all games and 88 per­cent of SEC games.

Maybe it’s be­cause he wins so much and so of­ten, but Sa­ban never has seemed very warm and fuzzy. He comes across as a guy whose un­der­wear is too tight as he climbs to un­com­fort­able places.

His suc­cess at Alabama has brought him riches that NFL coaches are en­vi­ous of, and there seems to be no ceil­ing for the gen­eros­ity of the Crim­son Tide Foun­da­tion, which paid him more than $3 mil­lion for his home on the con­di­tion he still live there for free.

Dat­ing back to his days at LSU — a school he swore he was never go­ing to leave, not even for the Dol­phins — Sa­ban is rid­ing a 12-game win­ning streak against the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville.

The last time the Ra­zor­backs beat Sa­ban was the day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing in 2002 in War Memo­rial Sta­dium, and it took a 50-yard pass from Matt Jones to Richard Smith to set up a 31-yard touch­down pass to DeCori Birm­ing­ham to cap an 81-yard drive in just 25 sec­onds to send the Hogs to the SEC Cham­pi­onship Game

Arkansas got the Golden Boot and the head­line in this pa­per the next day, “Jones to Birm­ing­ham to At­lanta,” won nu­mer­ous awards.

A sweet but dis­tant mem­ory for Hogs fans, and their last of beat­ing Sa­ban. In the 12 meet­ings since, the past 10 against Alabama, Sa­ban-coached teams have outscored the Ra­zor­backs by an av­er­age of 39.9 to 15.6.

Which was prob­a­bly why when Bret Bielema came to Arkansas he said he wanted to beat Alabama. To be the best you have to beat the best, and Sa­ban is the best.

He’s won four na­tional cham­pi­onships at Alabama and one at LSU, his five ti­tles one shy of the record set by Bear Bryant at Alabama.

Only Sa­ban knows whether he can yell “Next” enough times this sea­son to tie the record. The Tide open the sea­son in At­lanta against Florida State, and there’s a good chance they could end the sea­son in the same Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium against the Semi­noles in the na­tional cham­pi­onship game.

Crim­son Tide de­fen­sive back Minkah Fitz­patrick said the team was ap­proach­ing this sea­son with a chip on its shoul­der af­ter los­ing the cham­pi­onship to Clemson in Jan­uary.

That seems nat­u­ral be­cause the head coach ap­proaches his job with a chip on his shoul­der ev­ery day of his life.

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