HOOVER, Ala. (AP) - It was a familiar scene for Nick Saban these
days: Several dozen crimson-clad Alabama fans clamoring for
autographs or just a moment's attention from the coach they're
hoping will quickly return the Crimson Tide to greatness.
You'd think he had just led his team to a Southeastern
Conference and national title when he was escorted into the
league's media days early Thursday morning. Actually, that's the
achievement of Florida's Urban Meyer, who went to the podium a few
hours after Saban.
But at a site just 45 minutes from Tuscaloosa, it was Saban who
garnered the most attention, recreating a scene his players are
getting used to.
Cornerback Simeon Castille even calls his new coach "a rock
star, kind of" in this state.
"It's just wherever he goes, everybody is in a frenzy,"
Castille said. "Even when he first got here it was like that, and
it's still like that. I think it's awesome how excited everyone is
that he's here.
"I'm glad he's here. The fans are glad."
More than glad, the fans appear downright giddy - from the
overflow crowd for the spring game at 92,000-seat Bryant-Denny
Stadium to a media guide that features Saban photos on both the
front and back covers to Thursday's eager reception.
Saban isn't actively courting or even encouraging all that
attention. He didn't stop to sign autographs on his arrival, and
seemed less than thrilled with that coach-centric media guide
design though it might have been appropriate.
If any of Saban's peers can relate, it's Meyer. Fresh from
leading Utah to an unbeaten season, he needed only two years to
lead the Gators back to the top.
"I'm not quite sure what he's gone through," Meyer said. "I
have a feeling because I've kind of witnessed it myself. Maybe not
the same level. But that would happen at most schools in the
Saban, who won a share of the 2003 national title with LSU,
isn't promising to duplicate Meyer's rapid turnaround or instantly
satisfy fans' high expectations.
"It's great to be optimistic. It's probably not so good to be
pessimistic," Saban said. "But it's best to be realistic."
The reality is that he inherits a team that went 6-7 last season
and lost its final four games, including an embarrassing loss to
Mississippi State that helped prompt Mike Shula's firing.
But Saban's players aren't shying away from the heightened
"We're expected to win," center Antoine Caldwell said. "We
have enough talent on this football team where we should win games.
We have enough talent on this team where we should win big football
Saban's return to the SEC has heightened the intensity of
Alabama's rivalry with LSU, widely considered the Western Division
front-runner. He said a Tide administrative assistant even had her
tires slashed while attending a wedding in Baton Rouge, La.
"We have a tremendous amount of respect for LSU and we have a
lot of great relationships in Louisiana and want to continue to
have those," Saban said. "We hope that people understand that
it's our love and passion for college football that brought us
Saban's first meeting with his former team on Nov. 3 is
something even Meyer said he's looking forward to.
"I know how passionate these fans are down here in the South,"
Meyer said. "That's going to be a great story line in college
football this year. A little bit like when Coach (Steve Spurrier)
came back to Florida last year. What a great story line for college
Another nice story line: The Gators' bid for a repeat national
title, something the school's basketball team has already managed.
Meyer has brought in Florida hoops coach Billy Donovan and New
England Patriots coach Bill Belichick to discuss that challenge
with his team.
"Don't bask in our glory, that's how I feel about it," safety
Tony Joiner said. "We had a great year last year but it was last
year. If we live in last year, we won't win this year."
The Gators have only 21 scholarship upperclassmen on the roster
and nine players were drafted after the season, including
first-round defenders Jarvis Moss and Reggie Nelson. Plus, Tim
Tebow is going from a complementary role with quarterback Chris
Leak to the starting job.
Receiver Andre Caldwell feels Tebow is up to the task and is a
better passer than some fans realize since he was used more as a
runner last season.
"He's a lot more confident than most quarterbacks," Caldwell
said. "He believes in himself. He works harder than anybody I've
ever seen in my life."
Plus, he said, "He throws a great ball."
Meyer said a common denominator for his most successful teams at
Florida and Utah was they were "great practice teams."
And this group?
"Unfortunately, I've seen some chinks in the armor," Meyer
said. "I've seen some things show up that's not correlated to a
tough football team. However, I'm giving them the benefit of the
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)