There are plenty of things in the world worth smiling about. Puppies. Children, carefree and playing at a park. Warm chocolate chip cookies. A hug.
I am quite certain Nick Saban has experienced the joy of all those worldly things, and might have even cracked a smile from them. But college football, and the fabled Process Saban has created and used to dominate it, isn’t worth a smile. Not even one.
Smiling in the process of The Process would be like Darth Vader cracking a joke during construction of the Death Star. There is no enjoyment to be had when beating the life out of an opponent, sirs and madams. The Process won’t allow for mirth and merriment when it comes to domination.
And you know what? That is just fine with me.
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The last time I saw a smile from Saban within the confines of a football field was the ever-so-slight uncomfortable smirk he cracked while he squirmed on the makeshift stage at midfield at the Rose Bowl Stadium after the 2009 BCS National Championship Game.
That expression of – well, whatever it was couldn’t have been an actual smile because taking joy out of the Crimson Tide’s 37-21 victory over Texas and the program’s 13th national championship would make Saban a hypocrite to The Process that defines his very existence.
You see, the victory against the Longhorns was for everyone except Nick Saban. He even said so himself after dutifully cradling the Waterford crystal football for a half-second before passing it to Tide players who worked, sweated, bled and even cried their way to the pinnacle of college football.
The victory was for the state of Alabama. It was for Alabama football fans. It was for the university and President Witt and Mal Moore and pretty much everyone not named Nick Saban.
The Process, you see, isn’t about victories. Saban has had plenty of those, and he doesn’t even wear a wedding ring — “fat fingers” is his explanation — no less his 2003 national championship ring earned at LSU.
The Process isn’t about fame, though Saban’s diety status now includes a bronze statue to match the four others that celebrate UA’s national championship coaches on the Walk Of Champions.
And The Process isn’t about fortune, because Saban’s then-outrageous $4 million annual salary when he arrived at the Capstone actually was a pay cut from the Miami Dolphins — and he was making a cool million less than Texas coach Mack Brown when the two faced off with the title on the line.
What The Process is all about is actually working your way to the point that victory, fame and fortune are inevitable by-products. Here is a man, after all, who told reporters during a sightseeing photo-op with the team at Disneyland two years ago that his idea of fun is practice.
Not that Saban is a complete killjoy. Certainly the Crimson Tide players and assistant coaches inside the “Camp Saban” fortress off Bryant Drive have seen enough emotion and enjoyment from their head coach to know that his love for them cannot be questioned.
And that is because those people are the essence of football for Nick Saban.
And in turn, they define his essence. So the obligatory stuff like his weekly in-season meetings with statewide media often devolves into a jousting match featuring one person trying to talk without saying anything at all vs. folks who buy ink by the barrel to satisfy the craving masses in the Crimson Nation.
So the stuff like “I’m Nick Saban, and I endorse …” portions of his contract are strictly defined. That way, the Lickskillet Heavenly Ham Outlet Store doesn’t get its annual crack at him on a springtime afternoon when he has more important stuff to do — like deconstruct the entire Big East’s worth of offenses, just in case one of those teams is on the other sideline 12 years from now.
And yes, even holding a crystal football aloft — something every coach who paces a sideline at any level wishes to do — is considered ancillary to the main goal.
Work. Hard work. Tough work. Physical work. Demanding work. Work. Work. And, yes, more work.
You had to wonder if the pseudo-smile that briefly creased Saban’s face after whipping Texas in the manner that has defined Alabama football now for generations (run it down their throat, pass if you must, and don’t give up an inch without a fight) was more because he knows all too well of the work that laid ahead.
He knew that every coach in the country has stretched every corner on the recruiting trail while he was “enjoying” himself in Southern California. He knew that expectations would never be higher — and that statement is difficult to wrap your brain around when you work across the street from the Bryant Museum. Expectations that had every Crimson Tide fan worth their Golden Flake and Coca-Cola solemnly believing Saban would never again lose a game; expectations that have the Crimson Nation fully absolving the momentary lapse of coaching brilliance on Nov. 5 against LSU in favor of what is believed to be an epic and monumental beatdown of those same Tigers on Jan. 9 in the Superdome for yet another crystal football.
Nick Saban knows all these things. And he relishes them. That is where he truly finds the happiness that us mere mortals feel when we experience those puppies, children, cookies or a hug.
The victory is in the work. And Nick Saban is nothing but a winner.
Just don’t go expecting a smile in the process of The Process.