FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- As the soon-to-be owner of a fourth BCS national championship ring, Alabama coach Nick Saban is not averse to flashing his gaudy jewelry -- but only if it serves a purpose to continue his success with the Crimson Tide.
Asked Tuesday what he does with his rings, Saban deadpanned: "I just put them on the coffee table for the recruits to look at."
At last, a few hours after winning the fourth national title of his career and his third in the past four years at Alabama with a resounding 42-14 victory over Notre Dame, Saban loosened up enough to tell a joke. But he emphasized his belief that the only way to keep a keen edge is to resist the basic impulse to rest on your laurels.
"I don't really wear any of the championship rings," Saban said. "I never have. The satisfaction, enjoyment, comes from the fact that you know you did your best. We don't really need to wear a ring and [hold it up] to say, 'Look what I've got.' That's just not my style."
Just as he did after last year's win over LSU, Saban plans to put his players back to work preparing for next season, starting Wednesday. The Crimson Tide figures to lose a lot of talent to the NFL once again, but they have a lot coming back, including quarterback AJ McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley, the leaders on offense and defense.
As proud as he was of his team's ability to repeat, Saban's goal now is to set the bar even higher. He declined to reflect on his place in history because he's still pursuing it. But with four national titles, Saban is only two behind the all-time leaders, Paul "Bear" Bryant of Alabama and Fielding Yost of Michigan. Minnesota's Bernie Bierman won five, and Saban is even with Notre Dame's Frank Leahy and Tennessee's Robert Neyland.
This Alabama team now stands with the all-time greats. The last to win three titles in four seasons was Nebraska from 1994-97. When Saban left the Cleveland Browns, where he was Bill Belichick's defensive coordinator, to take his first head coaching job in 1995 at Michigan State, he opened with a 50-10 loss to coach Tom Osborne's defending national champions.
"I'm thinking, 'We're never going to win a game,' " Saban recalled. "I remember coach Osborne, when we shook hands after the game, he put his arm around me and whispered in my ear, 'You're not really as bad as you think.' "
Saban certainly has proved that much, despite his failed dalliance as coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2005-06 on the heels of his 2004 title at LSU. Speculation about returning to the NFL inevitably has surfaced again, but Saban shot it down forcefully.
Parity and the collective bargaining rules, Saban said, made it hard for him to "impact the organization the way that I wanted or that I was able to do in college . . . so I learned through that experience that maybe this is where I belong. And I'm really happy and at peace with that."