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Saban the centerpiece of Alabama's success

Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson

Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide walks on the field after winning the BCS National Championship. (January 7, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

For starters, let's do a re-vote and give the Heisman Trophy to Colt McCoy. No disrespect to Mark Ingram, who won it. But seeing what Texas looked like without McCoy, its star quarterback who was injured on the first possession, is believing that he had to be the best player in the country.

Anyway, that is not the real focus of Alabama's 37-21 triumph in the BCS Championship Game. The best team won and the real MVP was the first guy who raised the crystal Coaches Trophy, Alabama coach Nick Saban.

>> PHOTOS: Alabama defeats Texas to win it all

He sure isn't the first fellow you'd want over for high tea. A more joyless winner you never will see. When his players drenched him with Gatorade (smacking him with the tub in the process) he looked about as happy as if they had just egged his house on Halloween. On the very few times he did allow himself a smile after the game, it looked positively Nixonian, more a wince than a grin.

Still, it is appropriate that the big prize is called the Coaches Trophy because college football is a coaches' game. A big-time college football coach is the most influential position in sports, more than a major league ace pitcher, an NBA point guard, NFL quarterback, NHL goalie. He is at least as important as an NCAA basketball coach, and probably more because of his sport's sweep.

A successful college football team can affect an entire state (name one more powerful person in Alabama today than Saban) or region. Read Jim Dent's excellent book, "Resurrection" about what Ara Parseghian did for Notre Dame, its history and many alumni across the country.

The coach not only runs the offense, defense and special teams. He is the one whose personality persuades players to come to his school, convinces alumni to pony up millions for training facilities, affects the schedule and has the final say in a business that can produce $65 million in revenues per year, as Alabama's Crimson Tide does.

These are huge stakes. It is why Saban and other coaches make more than $4 million a year - including a $440,000 bonus for winning the whole enchilada. It is why even a great one such as Urban Meyer feels so much pressure he gets chest pains. It is why Charlie Weis was such an embarrassment at Notre Dame, why there are such messy divorces like the one between Mike Leach and Texas Tech.

Saban is a gruff, grumpy guy, but he is the best in the country at handling all of that. He is the first coach since 1936 to have won a national title at two different schools. He stood up to the withering expectations of a fan base that turns out 92,000 strong for a spring game. He is not daunted by the shadow of Bear Bryant, the iconic coach responsible for making Alabama football such a great brand.

The Crimson Tide coach apparently can turn on the personality when he wants to, considering that he always has been able to get good players to sign with him at Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and Alabama. From a distance, though, Saban seems to have gone to the Bill Belichick Charm School when he worked under Belichick with the Browns.

Who can forget Saban testily saying, as coach of the Dolphins, "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach" - weeks before he left to coach Alabama?

Fact is, the guy is terrific at his job. He operates a tough defense and solid running attack, just what you need in a game like Thursday night's. I can't imagine his team ever looking as flummoxed as Texas did when McCoy went out early in the first quarter. Freshman Garrett Gilbert eventually had some good moments and the Longhorns did show character in making it a game in the second half. But when it really mattered, the Texas team looked like a band that showed up without its instruments.

And as if there weren't enough heat on Gilbert, the coaching staff called that absurd shovel pass in the final 15 seconds of the first half. Alabama ran it back for a touchdown and instead of it being 17-6, it was 24-6 and that was that. As improvisations go, this ranked with the one in the Seinfeld episode when Kramer coached a Miss America contestant and tried to turn her into a ballad singer on the day of the pageant.

Full credit to Ingram, who scored the clinching touchdown, and the rest of the team that Saban assembled. After the coach repeated a mantra about the school president and athletic director four times, he eventually grew a little introspective: "I don't think you ever envision this kind of success," Saban said. "When I was young, I wasn't even sure I wanted to coach. I was probably driven to be as good as I could be at whatever it was I dedicated myself to. I've always worked hard to be the best I can be and have had a lot of pride in performance. That's the biggest reason we've had success - we've worked hard and had a lot of good people around us."

Props to Saban, the best man at the biggest job in sports.

Some other thoughts about the big game, which was uneven but very entertaining:

-The Big East officiating crew looked confused sometimes and just plain overmatched other times. Where were those pass interference calls against Alabama?

-In contrast, the ESPN team was deep and ready. Those of us who watch and love college football all season are grateful that Fox and its just-dropping-by announcers weren't covering this. At every corner, there were solid bona fide college football analysts, from Kirk Herbstreit in the booth to Lee Corso's crew and Lou Holtz's crew, Lisa Salters and Tom Rinaldi on the sidelines and Mike Tirico's group on radio. An all-star squad.

-Backup quarterback is getting to be a huge position. Teams can't afford to put some apprentice there. This season, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Florida's Tim Tebow and now McCoy had serious injuries. Beware if you're building your team totally around a starting quarterback.

-There is no stopping the Southeastern Conference, winner of four straight BCS titles.

-The game just looks and feels sooooo much better at the Rose Bowl than under a gloomy dome.

-McCoy deserves the final word. He was such a presence that the air seemed to go out of both teams when he wasn't in the game. Yes, even Alabama looked cautious and lackluster for a while.

The Texas quarterback is first class. He was humble and gracious afterward. As much as some people ridicule athletes for thanking God after they win, here's a nod to McCoy, a faith-filled young man, who thanked God on national TV after a horrendous bad break and heartbreaking loss.

>> PHOTOS: Alabama defeats Texas to win it all

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