Orange Bowl

How Nick Saban turned the Alabama Crimson Tide into a ‘dynasty like we haven’t seen’

Coach Nick Saban talks after Alabama defeated Oklahoma to advance to the national championship game

Alabama coach Nick Saban says he would rather throw oranges than head-sets after their victory over Oklahoma Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
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Alabama coach Nick Saban says he would rather throw oranges than head-sets after their victory over Oklahoma Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Nick Saban was angry, frustrated, furious even.

Three penalties in the span of a minute as his top-ranked Alabama team attempted one last scoring drive in the first half against No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl forced the Crimson Tide to settle for a field goal.

The last penalty, a false start by running back Damien Harris on fourth and 1, resulted in the coach to throw his hands in the air, grab his headset with his right hand and smash it into the Hard Rock Stadium turf as Alabama settled for a field goal.

Oh, and Alabama was leading by 18 points at that time and won the College Football Playoff semifinal matchup 45-34.

But it’s that type of mentality that in large part is a reason why Saban and the Crimson Tide were on the podium at the 50-yard line after the game, with Saban, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and other members of the team tossing oranges into the crowd with smiles on their faces.

“It was more fun throwing the oranges,” Saban said.

It’s a big reason why they are heading back to the national championship game for a fourth consecutive year and why Saban could hoist his Football Bowl Subdivision-record seventh title in a little more than a week.

“It’s a dynasty like we haven’t seen,” ESPN college football analyst Chris Fowler said. “We’re in that time right now where you have a ‘30 for 30’ film in the making. We’ll sit around and talk about this era of Alabama football in the rocking chair and tell our grandkids ‘I saw those teams play.’ That’s how dominant this decade has been. It doesn’t mean they can’t lose a game; it just means that over time, they’re doing things that you shouldn’t be able to do in college football.”

ORANGEBOWL1230SABAN2CTJ.JPG
Alabama coach Nick Saban gets upset at the end of the second quarter as they play Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Orange Bowl game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Saturday, December, 29, 2018. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

So how has Alabama done it?

Look no further than the man leading the charge.

He’s a perfectionist. Anything less is unacceptable.

His always revolving roster of the top-recruited players buys into that every year. They know excellence is the standard and if they don’t live up to it, there’s another highly praised player right behind him to take his place.

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When it comes to accolades, he keeps a short memory.

A 141-20 record in 12 years at Alabama? Eight SEC Championships? Six national titles, including two in the last three years?

None of that has an impact on how his team plays the next time it takes the field.

“It’s never the same ol’ same ol,” Saban said.

The title game this year feels that way, though.

Alabama’s opponent on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, California: None other than the No. 2 Clemson Tigers, who routed Notre Dame 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl. It’s the fourth consecutive year that they will meet in the playoffs and the third time that the game has national title implications. They split the first pair of championship games — Alabama winning 45-40 in the 2015 season and Clemson winning 35-31 for the 2016 title. The Crimson Tide won the semifinal game last year 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl.

But again, that’s looking in the past. Saban would not condone that.

“I’m always looking ahead, and I’m kind of looking ahead for this one, and I’m looking that way because I think we owe it to our team,” Saban said. “I thank these guys all the time for the great hard work that they do, the way they represent the university, themselves, their family. I’m really proud of them for that. But every thank you has an IOU, and I owe them my very best, and so do all of our coaches, and that’s kind of how we approach it. It is the next game. I really don’t think too much about what’s happened in the past, just the challenges of be where your feet are and what’s happening right now.

“I’m sure Clemson will be a tremendous challenge for our team.”

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.


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