HOOVER, Ala. — Alabama opened its 2020 season against Missouri on Sept. 26 at Faurot Field, kicking off a season unlike any other. But at the end of all the uncertainty and challenges, the Crimson Tide emerged as undefeated national champions — an unsurprising end to an unfamiliar season.
It is, after all, what Nick Saban teams have a knack for doing.
On Wednesday, six months after the national championship game, Alabama participated in the first iteration of SEC Media Days since 2019.
At the beginning of Day 3 of the unofficial beginning to the college football season, Saban took to the lectern.
He discussed his team's approaching title defense , largely sidestepped questions regarding his presumed starting quarterback Bryce Young's reported near-seven-figure name, image and likeness agreement and addressed the challenge of rebuilding a roster after losing 10 players to the NFL Draft, including six starters in the first round.
Despite the uncertainty — whether it be vaccination rates, NIL or picking his new starters — one topic became a theme of the questions addressed to Saban in his 30-minute media session: The longevity that has seen him become college football's leader in national championships with seven.
His answer wasn't complicated.
"I think that's simple," he said. "You've got to win."
And win Alabama has.
A lot has changed in college football since the last time Saban faced an SEC Media Days two years ago. This was never more apparent than when Saban's security detail pulled into the Hyatt Regency Birmingham hotel, where the event is taking place, and a much smaller crowd than in previous years greeted him at the entrance.
There was no mass turnout for autographs and handshakes. Instead, a subdued cheer from a small gathering of die-hard Tide fans behind a metal gate welcomed their beloved coach as he emerged from the passenger seat of his vehicle. Saban offered an appreciative wave in return before almost immediately disappearing into the hotel, where fans were not allowed, a change from previous years.
But for all that has changed, there's a reason the fans are still there to greet him. The good times have kept coming.
Year after year, team after team, Saban, his coaching staff and players have won championships. And he used his platform at SEC Media Days to offer an insight as to how.
"So consistency in performance usually defines success," Saban said. "And that means you can play down in and down out at a high level, and you can sustain that level because you can persevere through good plays and bad plays and refocus and be able to play the next play, and that's the philosophy that we use with our players."
Consistency may prove to be a challenge in the 2021 season, as Heisman Trophy winning wide receiverDeVonta Smith, star running back Najee Harris and starting quarterback Mac Jones are among the 10 that have traded Tuscaloosa for the pros.
"The penalty for success when you win a national championship is you won because you had a whole lot of good players," Saban said.
That doesn't worry him all that much, though.
"I've been pleased so far with the way our players have embraced their new roles and new responsibilities," he said. "How the new faces on our team have worked hard to develop in a way that they can have enough consistency in performance to have success and develop the confidence they need to be able to have success."
And it isn't just consistently excellent recruiting that has helped Saban along the way.
His ability to pick the staff around him has been equally important. John Metchie III and Phidarian Mathis, the two players accompanying their head coach in Hoover, said the combination of the new and old coaching staff has made for an efficient offseason.
In January, Alabama announced Bill O'Brien, the Houston Texans head coach from 2014-2020, would be joining as Saban's offensive coordinator. Later that month, former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone was appointed as offensive line coach.
"I was excited when I heard. I'm just excited to work with him," junior wide receiver Metchie said. "I think it would be a great opportunity for me to learn a lot, and I think it says a lot about the program at Alabama, the fact that you can have two head coaches on your staff."
Calling the plays on the opposite end of the ball is defensive coordinator Pete Golding, who is now in his third year in the role.
"I love Coach Pete, man," senior defensive tackle Mathis said. "I love his energy when he's on the field, and the most I've seen him growing is relating to the players more, just knowing us and getting to know us better, and I think that takes the whole team a long way."
New or old, the players mimicked their coaches' quiet confidence that preparations behind the scenes were progressing nicely as Alabama gears up to defend its national title.
"It definitely happens behind the scenes," Metchie said. "It definitely happens because of all the work we put in, how committed we are and the sacrifices we make in the off-season.
"I think that's why the results continue to look the same. I definitely think it's because of the atmosphere and the culture and just the standard of the guys buying in."