SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Nick Saban is a creature of habit, waking at dawn like usual the morning after corralling his latest national championship.
That love of routine hasn't kept the Alabama coach from adapting and evolving with the game, from the trend toward spread offenses to a longer, tougher path than ever before to a national title.
The fourth title in seven seasons was the toughest for Saban and the Crimson Tide. Yet they endured in a 45-40 shootout victory over Clemson on Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium. And that should tell you everything you need to know about Saban's ability to adapt.
Now he will try to do it again.
"What he's doing is unheard of," Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said after the game. "It's just the process. The players change, the coaches change. He's the one guy that stays the same."
Not exactly the same. And that's the point. Saban has made plenty of changes while clinging to habit. Take his urging Kiffin to spread out and speed up the offense at times.
The defense has veered away from the 340-pound space hoggers in the middle, relying on swifter, smaller defenders to better deal with fast-paced offenses like Clemson's and dual-threat quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson.
There was speedy linebacker Rashaan Evans sacking Watson twice and safety Geno Matias-Smith, a converted cornerback, racking up 11 tackles. Watson piled up 478 yards, but Alabama made stops when it counted, too — plus Saban's gutsy fourth-quarter onside kick call that led to a tiebreaking touchdown.
Saban tied Frank Leahy for the second-most Associated Press coaching titles, plus a BCS crown at LSU. He had to face his toughest national title game yet at Alabama. The Tide had rolled over Texas, shut out LSU and routed Notre Dame.
Saban will head back to the office for Wednesday meetings with players, including the latest group of underclassmen considering turning pro.
That could include Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson. Then he'll try to wrap up another top recruiting class.
"The bus doesn't stop," Saban said. "You've got to keep rolling."