Alabama's Nick Saban: Love him or hate him, his dynasty stands

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- To all those who think Nick Saban leads a joyless life, that all he cares about is winning football games, he'd like to set the record straight.

"I'm a very happy person."

Of course, Saban spoke with his jaw tightly clinched, a steely glare and nary the hint of a smile.

This is the face of college football.

Alabama will be going for its fourth national title in seven years when it takes on top-ranked Clemson in the championship game Monday night. Win or lose, it has been a staggering run for the Crimson Tide in this era of increased parity, where even the top programs slip up every now and then.

Not Alabama. Not as long as Saban's in charge.

"He's already won four national championships," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday. "This is the first one I've sniffed as a coach, and he's going for his fifth. It's incredible."

At 64, Saban is closing in on retirement age but shows no signs of slowing down. He's done what most thought was impossible in Tuscaloosa - carve out his own remarkable legacy alongside Bear Bryant's.

Love him or hate him, Saban is the best there is, one of the best ever.

After winning a BCS championship at LSU and a short-lived stint in the NFL, Saban took over at Alabama in 2007.

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Alabama's Nick Saban: Love him or hate him, his dynasty stands
Alabama quarterback Jake Coker (14) hands off to running back Derrick Henry (2) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against the Wisconsin Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Clemson running back C.J. Davidson (21) runs for yardage against Wofford during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 49-10. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Alabama running back Derrick Henry (2) scores a touchdown in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Middle Tennessee, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Alabama defensive lineman Jarran Reed (90) and Alabama tight end Michael Nysewander (46) celebrate after a tackle during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Middle Tennessee, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Alabama won 37-10. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Clemson's Charone Peake comes up short on a reception during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Appalachian State Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Clemson fans raise their hands in a school gesture before the start of an NCAA college football game against Appalachian State Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 41-10. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Alabama quarterback Cooper Bateman passes the ball during first half of an NCAA football game against Mississippi, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Mississippi running back Jordan Wilkins (22) scores a touchdown during first half of an NCAA college football game, as Alabama linebacker Dillon Lee (25) watches, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2015, file photo, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson looks for a receiver during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Louisville in Louisville, Ky. In the ACC, No. 3 Clemson hosts No. 17 Florida State on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. Clemson would clinch the Atlantic Division with a victory. Florida State would take control of the division with a victory and work itself back into the College Football Playoff race. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)
Clemson quarterback D3eshaun Watson (4) throws a pass under pressure form Louisville's Sheldon Rankins (98) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 26: Kenyan Drake #17 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes against Louisiana Monroe Warhawks at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 26: Jake Coker #14 of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks to pass as he rushes away from Lorenzo Jackson #45 of the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson rushes for a 38 yard gain on the first play of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 24-22. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Clemson's Artavis Scott reacts after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
ATHENS, GA - OCTOBER 03: Minkah Fitzpatrick #29 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates scoring a touchdown after blocking a punt against Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GA - OCTOBER 03: Derrick Henry #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes for a touchdown against the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson drops back to pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Tech Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 43-24. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2015, file photo, Clemson's Jayron Kearse, center, and Richard Yeargin tackle Georgia Tech's Mikell Lands-Davis during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Clemson, S.C. No one pushes No. 1 Clemsonâs defense harder than its offense. The combination has led to an undefeated season, an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and a spot in the national semifinals against No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1) at the Orange Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 31. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)
TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 10: Kenyan Drake #17 of the Alabama Crimson Tide is tackled by Dwayne Eugene #35 and Jeremiah Ledbetter #55 of the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
An Alabama fan cheers in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Alabama won 27-14.(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Boston College quarterback Jeff Smith (5) is tackled by Clemson safety T.J. Green (15) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs for yardage as Boston College defensive back Justin Simmons (27) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Alabama quarterback Jake Coker (14) hands the ball off to running back Derrick Henry (2) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Alabama running back Derrick Henry (2) is hit by Texas A&M 's Myles Garrett, right, during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in College Station, Texas. Alabama won 41-23. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, lower right, sacks Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya during the first half of an NCAA College football game, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Clemson players celebrate after their 58-0 win over Miami in an NCAA College football game, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Alabama wide receiver ArDarius Stewart (13) catches a pass as he comes down on top of Tennessee defensive back Brian Randolph (37) and defensive back Justin Martin (8) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Alabama won 19-14. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 24: D.J. Pettway #57 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates their 19-14 win over the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Clemson's Deon Cain, left, catches a touchdown pass as North Carolina State's Jack Tocho defends during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Clemson's Artavis Scott (3) and quarterback Deshaun Watson celebrate Watson's touchdown against North Carolina State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. Clemson won 56-41. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 07: Quarterback Jake Coker #14 of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks to escape the pocket against the LSU Tigers in the second quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 07: Quarterback Jake Coker #14 and Anthony Averett #28 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrate their 30-16 win over the LSU Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Clemson's Wayne Gallman leaps forward on his way to a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Florida State Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 23-13. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 14: O.J. Howard #88 of the Alabama Crimson Tide attempts to break a tackle by Taveze Calhoun #23 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 14: A'Shawn Robinson #86 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after sacking Dak Prescott #15 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs on the first play of the game at Davis Wade Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Clemsonâs Charone Peake, left, catches a pass while as defends Syracuseâs Cordell Hudson, right, in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)
Syracuse fans cheer in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against Clemson in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)
TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 21: ArDarius Stewart #13 of the Alabama Crimson Tide breaks a tackle by Zack Johnson #22 of the Charleston Southern Buccaneers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looks to pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Wake Forest running back Isaiah Robinson (21) is tackled by Clemson cornerback Cordrea Tankersley (25) during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 28: ArDarius Stewart #13 of the Alabama Crimson Tide fails to pull in this touchdown reception against Jonathan Jones #3 of the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 28: Adam Griffith #99 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after kicking his fourth field goal against the Auburn Tigers with Shawn Burgess-Becker #27 and Cole Mazza #55 at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson takes the field before the start of an NCAA college football game against South Carolina Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. Clemson won 37-32. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Clemson's Deon Cain pulls in a 55-yard pass for a touchdown while defended by South Carolina's Al Harris Jr.during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 5: Running back Derrick Henry #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide carries the ball against linebacker Jarrad Davis #40 of the Florida Gators and defensive back Keanu Neal #42 of the Florida Gators in the third quarter during the SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome on December 5, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 5: Running back Derrick Henry #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after defeating the Florida Gators 29-15 in the SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome on December 5, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs the ball as North Carolina's Mikey Bart (45) tackles during the second half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Clemson's Jadar Johnson (18) reaches for North Carolina's Cameron Albright (31) during the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2015, file photo, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson celebrates after Clemson defeated North Carolina 45-37 in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C. Deshaun Watson is the Atlantic Coast Conferenceâs offensive player of the year and one of four Tigers on The Associated Press All-ACC first team. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)
ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 31: Wide receiver Calvin Ridley #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide catches a six-yard touchdown pass against cornerback Jermaine Edmondson #39 of the Michigan State Spartans in the third quarter during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 31: Running back Derrick Henry #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide stiff arms defensive end Shilique Calhoun #89 and then runs for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Michigan State Spartans during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Alabama running back Lawrence Erekosima (43) makes a 'confetti angel' after Alabama defeated Michigan State, 38-0, in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015. (Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) attempts to evade Oklahoma safety Ahmad Thomas (13) on his way to a touchdown during the first half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football semifinal playoff game, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Clemson wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (13) can't take control of the ball as Oklahoma safety Steven Parker (10) defends, during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football semifinal playoff game, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) throws oranges to the crowd after his team won the Orange Bowl NCAA college football semifinal playoff game against Oklahoma, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Clemson defeated Oklahoma 37-17. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
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He spent the first season rebuilding a storied program that had fallen on hard times.

Since then, he's been on cruise control.

The formula isn't all that complicated. Recruit the best players. Hire the best assistants. Adapt to the times but never waver from your core beliefs.

"He's great at recruiting, and he's great at putting a staff together," Swinney said. "The key to being successful, as far as maintaining consistency in your program, is your evaluation in the recruiting process and then your development of those guys. And especially developing those guys maybe when they're not the starter. I think that's critical, and I think coach Saban obviously does a phenomenal job of that."

Alabama (13-1) has played only three regular-season games over the past eight years without some sort of national championship implications. The Tide is 97-12 during that span, with eight of the defeats decided by a touchdown or less.

More telling, Saban has the rest of the mighty Southeastern Conference playing catch up.

No one's job is safe, not even a coach such as Mark Richt, who won nearly 75 percent of his games at Georgia over a 15-year period but wound up getting chased out of town, largely because the Bulldogs haven't won a league title since Saban's arrival. Tennessee is on its fourth coach since 2007. Florida and Auburn have each had three coaches during that time.

Florida and Georgia have even turned to Saban protégés. Jim McElwain is a former Alabama offensive coordinator who just completed his first season with the Gators. Kirby Smart, the Tide's defensive coordinator, will take over at Georgia after the championship game.

LSU's Les Miles is the only SEC coach who's managed to survive in the Saban era, and even the Mad Hatter barely held onto his job this season. The biggest notch against him? Five straight losses to Alabama.

Saban might allow himself to smile if the Tide wins another national title, but the celebration won't last long.

Maybe just a few hours.

"Coach has said it before: You win the trophy, you hold it up, you take a picture and you hand it away - and you go get ready to win the next one," said Lane Kiffin, the Tide's offensive coordinator. "That's how he is. I'm sure (if) we're fortunate to win this game, we'll have a staff meeting at 7:30 the next morning."

If that seems like a grim existence, well, so be it.

Saban makes no apologies.

"I'm a very serious person about trying to do the things to have a very good program that benefits the players personally, academically and athletically, helps them have more success in life for having been involved in the program," he said. "So I'm a serious person, but I'm a very happy person. And I have a lot of fun, I really do."

During the offseason, he finds time to fish and play golf. He enjoys spending time with family and a close circle of friends. He gets away to a beach house in southwest Florida and a lake house in the north Georgia mountains.

"It's not like I like to go to the karaoke machine and sing and all that," he said, "but there's a lot of things that I enjoy."

Of course, coaching comes first.

Saban has given no indication that the end is near.

If someone tries to get him to reflect on his legacy, he'll quickly steer the conversation in a different direction.

"I'm so concerned about this team, these players, what they've worked to accomplish," Saban said. "I've got no time to think about that stuff."

If he ever finds the time, he'd see that he's already one of the greatest coaches in college football history.

Right up there with the Bear.

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