NEW ORLEANS — Nick Saban rolled out of bed without time even for his daily dose of The Weather Channel with wife Terry.
The business of celebrating Alabama's second national championship in three years disrupted the morning routine for a coach who makes a habit of, well, habits. He didn't seem to mind.
"I couldn't get people out of my room until 3," Saban said at Tuesday's morning-after news conference. "I haven't been up till 3 for a long time. I actually got up just in time to get here, so we missed it today."
When it comes to another habit — winning championships — the forecast for Alabama remains sunny.
The 60-year-old Saban took the time to praise his team's execution — of the celebratory dousing after a dominant 21-0 win over LSU. He made it clear he's still got the passion to stick around the sideline awhile. And, of course, he turned his attention to next season when the Crimson Tide might once again have a top-five team.
Saban acknowledged he might have savored this one a little more, as evidenced by his unrestrained smiles after the game.
"To be honest with you, I think I maybe did," he said. "This team was a special team — not that the 2009 team was any different. And certainly an honor and a privilege to be with a group that made the kind of commitment that you look for from a competitive character standpoint and intangibles that you always strive to try to get as a coach.
"It was a really special group."
The team and the Tuscaloosa community rallied following a deadly April tornado. Alabama didn't miss a beat after losing four NFL first-round draft picks. And quarterback AJ McCarron seamlessly replaced Greg McElroy.
The juggernaut program has now won 48 games in the past four seasons. Which makes this 12-1 team just average by the current stratospheric expectations.
The exodus — and talent infusion — will continue. Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick are among juniors considering a jump to the NFL.
Saban gave what might end up being a farewell tribute to Richardson without even being asked. Richardson broke Mark Ingram's 2-year-old school rushing mark with 1,679 yards and ran for 21 touchdowns, second only to Tim Tebow's 23 in Southeastern Conference history.
Saban said Richardson "probably had as good a football season as anyone that I've ever had the opportunity to coach."
"I always use the analogy that you really can't be a great player unless you affect somebody on your team," the coach said. "Players make plays. Good players affect somebody on their team. Great players affect their entire unit.
"And Trent's competitive spirit certainly affected everybody on our team."
The list of key departing seniors is long and includes three-time All-America safety Mark Barron, linebacker and defensive MVP Courtney Upshaw, nose guard Josh Chapman, center William Vlachos, cornerback DeQuan Menzie and wide receiver Marquis Maze.
Not to worry, though. Alabama's 2012 recruiting class is again shaping up as one of the tops nationally.
"We're losing a lot of good football players," Saban said. "And we've got a lot of good young ones coming up and some good players coming back.
"But every year is a bit of a rebuilding year and we'll certainly have a lot of opportunities for a lot of young players to make a contribution next year."
Leave it to Saban to drop in a little invitation to blue-chip prospects.
The road next season will be a little harder. The Tide opens against Michigan at Cowboys Stadium outside Dallas and has road games against Arkansas and an LSU team that figures to be loaded once again.
This defense will be hard to top, too. The Tide held LSU to 92 total yards and five first downs, the ninth time this season an opponent hasn't scored in double digits and the team's third shutout.
Saban left no doubt he still has the passion to coach. Alabama fans can rest easy, as he said no retirement to his lake house in north Georgia is imminent.
Still got that fire, coach?
"When a guy jumps offsides with three minutes left in the game, and you still coach your team like the first game of the season, what do you think?" Saban said.
Maybe he's also realized that winning isn't the only thing
"I really do think that maybe the only thing that's changed about me is winning the game is not enough," he said. "It really is not enough."
Also important: "Doing it the right way ... which also includes serving other people, which I think is one of the big things that this team did."
Saban left New Orleans with a different enduring image from one that got plenty of airtime after the Tide beat Texas two years ago in Pasadena and enforced public perception of a dour Type A-plus personality. He was captured grimacing after a celebratory dousing, later explaining that he was reacting to getting bumped on the head by the cooler.
This time, he was left wet but unhurt.
"I enjoyed the Gatorade bath two years ago," Saban said. "I wasn't expecting it and got kind of almost knocked out. The players improved in terms of their ability to deliver. I improved on my ability to accept, and everybody was happy."
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