MIAMI — The questioner expressed mixed feelings, asking such a question in the day-after press conference following Nick Saban’s fourth major college football national championship.
Still, talk about Saban and NFL coaching jobs has been an elephant since a month-old Boston Globe report connecting him with the Cleveland Browns, and Saban’s full-throated answer Tuesday amounted to lion roaring at the elephant.
“Well, you know, how many times do you think I’ve been asked this question?” he said Tuesday morning, hours after his sixth Alabama team beat Notre Dame 42-14 to make it three Bowl Championship Series titles in four years. “How many times do you think I’ve been asked to put it to rest? And I’ve put it to rest, and you continue to ask it.”
From the time Alabama arrived a week ago, Saban has calmly, even humbly addressed persistent NFL questions, whether it involved speculation about career moves he might make or rehash about the one he did make from the Miami Dolphins to Alabama.
NFL jobs, including the one in Cleveland, remain open, but Saban has persistently articulated a sense that he feels at home back in the college game.
“So I’m going to say it today, that, you know, I think somewhere along the line, you’ve got to choose,” he said. “You learn a lot from the experiences of what you’ve done in the past.
“I came to the Miami Dolphins, what, eight years ago for the best owner, the best person that I’ve ever had the opportunity to work for. And in the two years that I was here, had a very, very difficult time thinking that I could impact the organization in the way that I wanted to or the way that I was able to in college.
“And it was very difficult for me, because there’s a lot of parity in the NFL. There’s a lot of rules in the NFL.”
Saban went on to mention salary-cap quirks and how draft order impacts whether NFL coaches can get the players they want. Then there’s the matter of the free-agent market and landing a quarterback.
Miami fans well remember that Saban wound up with Daunte Culpepper instead of Drew Brees, who went on to win a Super Bowl with New Orleans.
“You’ve got to have a quarterback,” Saban said. “We had a chance to get one here; sort of messed it up.
“So, I didn't feel like I could impact the team the same way that I can as a college coach in terms of affecting people’s lives personally, helping them develop careers by graduating from school, off the field, by helping develop them as football players, and there’s a lot of self-gratification in all that, all right.
“So, I kind of learned through that experience that maybe this is where I belong, and I’m really happy and at peace with all that.”
TAKING A BATH: Saban drew laughs when asked about his latest Gatorade bath, which, he said, was an improvement over the first one he got with Alabama.
The first one came after Alabama beat Texas in the 2010 BCS final in Pasadena, and it was, shall we say, more physical than the splashes he got after victories over LSU and Notre Dame in subsequent BCS games.
“It’s cold. It’s sticky, but I appreciated not getting hit in the head with the bucket,” he said. “That was an improvement.
“But I really pride myself in being able to anticipate what’s coming next — you know, anticipate what the next problem in the organization is, anticipate what we need to solve, what we need to focus on, what we need to work on — and I’ve never been able to anticipate the Gatorade coming.
“I don’t know what's up with that.”
FUTURE OF CHAMPIONSHIPS: Saban has pointed out time and again the Alabama was “five yards away” from not making it to the BCS final. He’s referring to how close Georgia came to beating the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship on Dec. 1.
Had Alabama lost that game, Georgia would have played in the BCS final against Notre Dame. Georgia wound up not even selected for one of four BCS bowls, and that gives Saban concern about conference championship games as college football heads into the era of the four-team playoff, starting in 2014.
“Now, if we’re going to have that (conference championship) game and play those teams to get in the Final Four, if we’re going to keep that format, I don’t know if that enhances our chances or not,” he said. “We may be eliminating a team, if that’s the scenario, that would have been in the Final Four that may not be after they lose that game, which I think would be incredibly unfair, especially if every other conference doesn’t have a championship game to play in.
“You shouldn’t be able to sneak your way in. If we’re going to have to play our way in, let’s play our way in, everybody.”
Saban said he doesn’t want to get rid of conference championship games, which wound up vaulting his team into the BCS final twice in three tries at Alabama.
“I think the conference championship game is a great venue,” he said. “It’s a great, competitive venue. I mean, how much fan interest is there for that game? I mean, I heard what the tickets were going for.
“Other than playing in the national championship game, that’s as fine a competitive venue as I’ve ever been around, so why would we get rid of that? I think those things are great.”:
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.