FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - It didn't take long for Alabama coach Nick Saban to turn his thoughts to next season.
Maybe he let the Gatorade dry from the celebratory drenching first. Maybe.
"The team next year is 0-0," Saban said Tuesday morning. "Even though I really appreciate what this team accomplished and am very, very proud of what they accomplished, we need to prepare for the challenges of the new season very quickly with the team we have coming back. "
Apparently, the coach's 24-hour celebration rule applies mostly to players. He didn't take nearly that long to refocus after a 42-14 demolition of Notre Dame that secured a second straight BCS title and the Crimson Tide's third in four seasons. Shortly after the game, he was already talking about getting back to the office by Wednesday morning.
The 2013 team will almost certainly be regarded among the preseason favorites for a three-peat, even though three Tide stars — tailback Eddie Lacy, cornerback Dee Milliner and right tackle D.J. Fluker — could decide to skip this senior seasons and turn pro.
Saban also emphatically tried to end speculation that he might return to the NFL, where he spent two years with the Miami Dolphins before returning to the Southeastern Conference.
It was a question that really made him bristle in the 30-plus minute news conference.
"How many times do you think I've been asked to put it to rest?" Saban said. "And I've put it to rest, and you continue to ask it. So I'm going to say it today, that — you know, I think somewhere along the line you've got to choose. You learn a lot from the experiences of what you've done in the past. I came to the Miami Dolphins, what, eight years ago for the best owner, the best person that I've ever had the opportunity to work for. And in the two years that I was here, had a very, very difficult time thinking that I could impact the organization in the way that I wanted to or the way that I was able to in college, and it was very difficult for me."
He said that experience taught him that the college ranks "is where I belong, and I'm really happy and at peace with all that."
As for the players, All-America linebacker C.J. Mosley has already said he'll return. So has quarterback AJ McCarron, who will have a talented group of receivers led by freshman Amari Cooper.
"We certainly have to build the team around him," Saban said, adding that a late-game spat with center Barrett Jones showed the quarterback's competitive fire. "I've talked a lot about it's difficult to play quarterback when you don't have good players around you. I think we should have, God willing and everybody staying healthy, a pretty good receiver corps. We'll have to do some rebuilding in the offensive line. Regardless of what Eddie decides to do, we'll probably still have some pretty decent runners. But I think AJ can be a really good player, maybe the best quarterback in the country next year."
The biggest question mark is replacing three, maybe four, starters on an offensive line that paved the way.
Saban emphasized the difficulty of repeating and said he showed the players a video of NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan saying that the first title isn't the hardest — it's the ones after that.
That's because, Saban said, "you have to have the will to fight against yourself."
Now, the 'Bama coach has four titles, including one during his stop at LSU. Saban doesn't wear the championship rings but uses them for a different purpose.
"I just put them on the coffee table for the recruits to look at," he said, cracking up the room.
Saban has already lined up another highly rated recruiting class and already has the next wave of young talents waiting in the wings.
After all, he talked about the sign mentor Bill Belichick hung in the football building during their NFL days together: "Do your job."
Saban jokingly acknowledged that while he prepares for everything, the one thing he has never been able to anticipate is the Gatorade bath. He drew heat for a scowl after the first one, following the title game win over Texas when he got dinged in the head. Monday night's dousing went better.
"It's cold, it's sticky, but I appreciated not getting hit in the head with the bucket," Saban said. "That was an improvement."
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