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Alabama head coach Nick Saban will face his former team, LSU, for the first time Saturday.
Daily file photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban will face his former team, LSU, for the first time Saturday.

Color him
crimson now

Bama’s Saban deflects his old ties to LSU

By Josh Cooper · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Conducting his usual Monday news conference, Nick Saban wore one of his normal Alabama outfits — a crimson shirt embroidered with the school logo.

In some shades of lighting, the color could have looked LSU purple. That was a mistake that some made when Saban said hello to Crimson Tide fans at halftime of the Alabama-LSU basketball game Jan. 9.

But for those who doubt Saban’s loyalty, he made a strong statement at his Monday news conference:

“I’m on this side of the fence now.”

On Jan. 4, when Saban took the Tide job, the Alabama-LSU game stood out on the schedule.

Tennessee and Auburn always are rivals, but the weight Saban brings to Alabama’s game with the Bayou Bengals was on display Monday.

Several Louisiana-based newspapers and television stations sent reporters to Tuscaloosa on Monday, packing the media room to larger than normal levels.

Saban fielded some questions about Alabama’s offense, defense and special teams, but most of the queries regarded Saban’s emotional attachment to Saturday’s opponent. He said the focus should be on the players, but it was clear the spotlight landed squarely on the head coach.

“I’m not affected by external things,” Saban said. “I’m looking at what I look at and doing what I do to try to help our team and I’m not interested in what anybody’s saying or putting on the Internet or any of that stuff.

“It doesn’t affect what I’m doing. It doesn’t affect my commitment to our team. The emotion for me is to help our team do well against an outstanding team.”

Saban often remembers his time at LSU with fondness. When he delves into stories of past experiences in coaching, he typically rattles off tales of his 2003 Tigers team that won a national championship.

On the day Saban was hired, his wife, Terry, made sure to remind him during his news conference to make a positive statement about the people of LSU.

Monday was no different.

Saban called coaching at LSU the “greatest thrill of my coaching career” for having a chance to play for a national championship and compete in some important bowl games.

“The support and the togetherness that everyone from an administration, from the fans, everyone had in helping build that is something special that I’ll never forget,” Saban said. “No one will ever take that away no matter what they do.”

Saban took over a program that was 3-8 in 1999, a year before he arrived. In his second year, the Tigers won the SEC championship. In his fourth year, Saban lifted the crystal ball at the Louisiana Superdome, the reward for defeating Oklahoma to win a national title.

Said Saban at his introductory news conference at Alabama in January: “When I raised that crystal for the people of Louisiana, for LSU, when we won the national championship, it was raising it for everybody who contributed to supporting LSU, to supporting that program, to supporting that team. That was a special relationship.”

That relationship has been tested since Saban took over the Alabama job. When Saban left LSU for Miami, there were few ill feelings about his departure. Now that he is back in the SEC, Saban’s rapport with LSU fans has become strained.

He linked himself with LSU’s Sugar Bowl-winning squad of last season: “I think the players that you saw play last night for LSU were primarily players that were recruited when I was there,” Saban said in January.

Then last year, he told a joke about Cajuns during an interview with Miami reporters upon his hiring at Alabama. The joke was told off the record, but found its way to a Miami radio station when one of the reporters e-mailed it to a friend at the station, who didn’t realize it was off the record.

Despite those issues, Saban said he is ready to move on and get his team ready to play another opponent — though some might be skeptical that this is just another game.

“I respect the other guys but we want to help our guys compete the best that they can to play winning football against a very good team,” Saban said. “There’s nothing hard about that. It is what it is.

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