Fans arrive before the Alabama vs. Arkansas State game at Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday September 8, 2018.
After each win, Nick Saban gifts his players with 24 hours in which they can celebrate and enjoy the victory, but after that, it’s back to business.
As for the 67-year-old Saban himself, for years it didn’t seem he allowed himself even a 24-minute rule. While players, staff and fans celebrated, his mind already moved ahead to the next game, the next recruiting cycle, the next season.
That’s part of what makes him so good at what he does — he’s so relentless.
No matter how many good things happen for him and his football program, he always moves forward and insists that those around him do the same. He never says, “That’s enough. Let’s rest.”
It never stops, not even when Alabama hosts summer football camps for kids.
Just as they’re thinking they’re going to get a kind and warm welcome from the Crimson Tide football coach, he gives them a shock by demanding they don’t waste their chance to get better.
He’ll just about shout at them, “Are you spending time or investing time?” (Hey, if you go to Nick Saban’s football camp, you’re going to get Nick Saban.)
Still, maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t it seem lately Saban is taking a few moments to enjoy what he’s accomplished?
He’s still driven and still works to a high standard, but he seems to let the joy and emotion flow more readily than in the past. Maybe he’s feeling his age. Maybe he realizes he can’t predict how many more championships he’ll win — if any.
Maybe he realizes how incredibly fortunate he’s been, and that there’s nothing wrong in enjoying good things when they happen.
After beating Georgia to win an exciting SEC Championship Game four weeks ago, his first comment in the post-game news conference: “I guess that I can say wow.”
He even got choked up when talking about how much he appreciated that former starting quarterback Jalen Hurts got his chance to shine.
After winning a national championship last year, he practically gushed in an on-field interview with ESPN: “I’m happy for all these folks. I’m happy for our players. …”
Then he added: “And I’ve never been happier in my life.”
Those comments after two big wins may not seem like much, but consider how Saban was early in his run at Alabama.
He won his first national title with the Crimson Tide on Jan. 7, 2010, when Alabama beat Texas in the championship game. Nine days later, the school hosted a celebration at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Nearly 40,000 deliriously happy Tide fans attended. Saban essentially told them that this was no time to rest.
After thanking various school officials, he said, “But I want everyone here to know. This is not the end. This is the beginning.”
Even as the championships piled up, he didn’t change. It isn’t that he didn’t look like he enjoyed winning — it’s just that he never thought to take time to appreciate what his teams were accomplishing.
After beating Notre Dame on Jan. 7, 2013, for his third national title in four years, a tired Saban was goaded by a reporter about whether he actually enjoyed winning a championship.
Saban responded like he often does when he’s in a good mood but wants someone to back off — with some snark.
“Whether I look like it or not, I’m happy as hell,” he said with a smile.
Mid-season in 2014 seems like a turning point for Saban. Alabama lost at Ole Miss. The Tide players seemed down, more than usual. It was if they felt the weight of decades of tradition and championships.
Typically, Saban is good with his teams after they lose. He realizes that if they play hard, it’s unfair to criticize them for losing, especially since he orders them to worry about their job instead of the result of the game.
But in the next game — a one-point win in a battle of attrition at Arkansas — Saban reacted as if his team did something huge. He smiled and made an effort to remind his players to enjoy winning, rather than fear losing. He looked more jazzed than he did after those championship wins.
Of course, he still doesn’t rest.
At an Orange Bowl news conference Friday morning, here’s how he described his motivation after all this success: “When next season starts, you kind of push the boulder up the hill or up the mountain this year, but next year it starts all over.
So you have a process of things that are very challenging for that particular team, and that’s what I always sort of look at and focus on. Just don’t look back, always look ahead.”
But, that doesn’t mean he can’t take a few moments and say, “Wow.”