There was a man in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-Wynfrey Hotel on Thursday proudly displaying a sign that read, “I flew from Australia to meet Nick Saban.”
Undoubtedly, Alabama and its four-time national championship coach, Nick Saban, who won three of those titles since taking over the Crimson Tide in 2007, serves as the main event at Southeastern Conference Football Media Days.
This year was no different.
Alabama was tabbed the favorite to win the SEC, picking up 154 of 293 votes — 52.6 percent — in the Media Days preseason poll.
That didn’t stop Saban from lamenting the way the 2013 season ended — with losses to Auburn and Oklahoma — after a run of three national titles in four seasons.
“We have to re-establish our identity as a team at Alabama,” Saban said. “It’s going to take every player to have a tremendous amount of buy-in for us to be able to do that. I think basically you need to check your ego at the door. All of us — players, coaches and everybody in our organization.”
Saban wrapped up his scripted remarks with a lengthy soliloquy about deficiencies in discipline and maturity among today’s youth.
That was only the tip of the iceberg.
Saban also had some pointed remarks about scheduling in college football, saying the power conferences should only play among themselves.
“I’d be all for playing all of our games against those guys,” he said. “You know, it’s what the fans want. I mean, we need to be more concerned about the people who support the programs and the university and come to see the games.”
Saban rankles at schedules constructed with the aim of racking up six wins to gain bowl eligibility.
He’d rather see a 5-7 team that played a quality schedule play in a bowl game over a 6-6 team that refused to challenge itself.
Saban, an outspoken proponent of a nine-game SEC schedule, also expressed dismay at the conference schedule.
“I know that everybody thinks I’m crazy,” he said, “but I think that every player that comes to an SEC school should play every team in the SEC, which means you have to play two or three games on the other side. You can’t expand the conference and not expand the number of games you play to be able to do that.”
Saban fended off another question about his reported flirtation with Texas after Mack Brown resigned in December.
“I didn’t have any conversations with them,” he said. “Nobody offered me anything. So, I guess if I didn’t have any conversations with them, I didn’t have very much interest.”
Saban — who previously coached at Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and for the Miami Dolphins — also suggested that ambitiously hopping from job to job might have been shortsighted. (Of course, that’s easy to say when making $6.9 million per season with 20/20 hindsight.)
“If I had it to do over, I’d have just tried to stay in one place and establish a great program, not have all these goals and aspirations of things that eventually you weren’t happy doing.”
Finally, Saban addressed the somewhat shocking hire of former Tennessee and USC coach Lane Kiffin as Alabama’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in the offseason.
“The players have responded to him very well,” Saban said. “New energy, new enthusiasm, new ideas to do some things offensively that would enhance our chances of being successful. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to work with him.”