NCAA college football head coach Nick Saban of Alabama speaks during the ceremony for the acceptance of The Macarthur Bowl trophy which is in front of him during the Southeastern Conference Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Nick Saban is still the star of the show at SEC Media Days

July 18, 2018 - 6:30 pm

ATLANTA (AP) — Nick Saban peeked around the curtain, wondering if it was time to make his grand appearance.

Everyone else at Southeastern Conference Media Days must accept a supporting role.

Saban is the undisputed star of the show.

Just a few months removed from his record-tying sixth national championship, the Alabama coach straightened his crimson tie, cleared his throat and held court for a half-hour at the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

He touched on a wide range of subjects, all while making it clear which ones wouldn't reveal the least bit of insight (most notably, the Crimson Tide's quarterback dilemma, which he brushed off with a preemptive "still to be determined").

He never wavered much from his lecturing tone, except to throw in a slight bit of disdain — even while telling the assembled media how excited he was to be here (sorry, that was one time he didn't sound the least bit persuasive).

Saban will turn 67 on Halloween.

Amazingly, said linebacker Anfernee Jenkins, "he seems to be getting younger."

That age-defying assessment can't be too comforting to a conference that has been trying for more than a decade — without much success — to knock Saban from his throne.

"I really enjoy what I'm doing right now, and as long as I'm healthy and I can do it, I'm going to continue to do it and not worry about any numbers or what my age is or anything like that," he said. "I would not want to be in the position where I ever rode the program down because I wasn't capable of making a contribution that would be positive to the success of the program."

No worries there.

Saban's sixth national title — the one that pulled him even with Bear Bryant for the most by any coach in college football history — might have been his greatest of all.

The Crimson Tide battled a rash of injuries, especially on the defensive side of the line. There was a loss to bitter rival Auburn in the regular-season finale, a defeat that cost Alabama a shot at the SEC title. Then, after claiming a spot in the playoff and knocking off defending national champion Clemson in the semifinals, Saban faced an excruciating decision in the title game.

With his team down 13-0 to Georgia at halftime and doing nothing offensively, Saban yanked starting quarterback Jalen Hurts — despite a 25-2 career record as a starter — and inserted freshman Tua Tagovailoa.

All the young Hawaiian did was throw three touchdown passes, including a 41-yard scoring strike in overtime to give the Crimson Tide another national crown .

"There was tremendous adversity, probably more adversity than any championship team we've ever had," Saban allowed, in a rare instance of looking backward. "This was more self-fulfilling maybe than ever before."

Of course, he didn't linger long on the past.

Never does.

"He probably celebrated that night," Jenkins said, "and then he was back to recruiting the next day."

Saban's success has put the rest of the mighty SEC into a perpetual state of catch-up, most notably by focusing their coaching hires on someone — anyone — who has been touched by the master's genius.

Five of his former assistants have gone on to head coaching jobs in the SEC. While Jim McElwain didn't last long at Florida, the other four — most notably, Kirby Smart of rising powerhouse Georgia — will be trying to knock Saban off his pedestal this season.

Each other coach, regardless of pedigree, is aware of the challenge he faces.

Even during Media Days.

"When I saw the list earlier in the spring and saw I was speaking on the same day as coach Saban, I was a little worried I was going to have to go after him," said Mississippi State's new coach, Joe Moorhead. "It would be like taking the stage and performing after the Beatles."

Fortunately for Moorhead, he spoke before Saban.

Sure, he was nothing more than a warm-up act, but that beats being an afterthought.

As with any season, Saban faces a unique set of challenges. He'll have to sort out the quarterback situation and cope with the fallout when he finally names a starter. He'll be dealing with an unusually high amount of turnover on his staff, breaking in six new coaches including replacements for defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt (the new coach at Tennessee) and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (who moved on to the same post with the Buffalo Bills).

But as long as Saban is at the top of the organization, as he calls it, Alabama should be just fine.

Someone asked how much say his wife, Terry, would have over his decision to finally call it a career.

"Mrs. Terry does not want me at home," Saban said, flashing a bit of the dry humor he doesn't get enough credit for. "She doesn't care if I'm 60, 70, or 80. She's looking for something for me to do."

As for his health, Saban pointed to the pickup basketball games that are a treasured part of his rare times away from the gridiron.

"Our noontime basketball team was undefeated again this year," Saban said, "so that's always an indicator to me that I can make it through another season."

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry

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