TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It took AJ McCarron a while to become the starting quarterback at Alabama, to be the one who runs the offense and answers to coach Nick Saban on a daily, sometimes play-by-play basis.
He first had to convince Saban he could handle the responsibility of the job, and then he had to win some games for his head coach, too. It took a few regular season games for it to become clear that the job was his. He won big and earned the Crimson Tide their 14th national championship.
Somewhere along the way to the BCS title and through the spring and summer, Saban and McCarron have become close. The trust between the two is more evident with each passing day.
Now, coach and quarterback have common ground.
"He's a perfectionist, he's a great competitor," Saban said of McCarron. "He wants to do well, he wants to make plays. He wants to be a leader. He wants his unit to do well. Every play that doesn't work in practice, you can see him kicking the sand or whatever with his gestures. He always bounces back for the next play."
"People always ask how do you sustain? You've been doing this for 30-something years," Saban said. "Well, that's never the question. It's how you're driven to be who you are. I would be this way if I were still pumping gas at my dad's service station. It's just the way you are, and that's the way AJ is."
Right tackle D.J. Fluker has seen McCarron shake his head and shout at teammates, and the comparisons to Saban aren't that farfetched to him.
"You know, they're just like brothers," Fluker said with a laugh. "They're both picky. That's the only thing you can say. … They have their gel-time sometimes. It's just fun to watch them go at it."
For his part, McCarron said the difference between last year and now is all about comfort.
"I feel like the game has slowed down a lot," McCarron said. "When you first get into this game you want to throw touchdowns, you don't always take what the defense gives you. I feel like I do that, do a pretty good job of that now, and I just have to keep doing that. Just keep growing as a leader.
McCarron's even started adopting some of Saban's sayings. The so-called "process" that Saban preaches has found its way into the junior quarterback's vocabulary.
"It definitely has to do with maturity, but that's part of the learning process," McCarron said. "Some go through the learning process faster, and some don't. It's been a good process, though."
As quarterback and coach go through the process of another season, the offense stands to take on a new look. At the BCS title game, Saban entrusted McCarron with more control of the offense, throwing the ball often on first down. This season could be more of the same, but to McCarron, it's all a matter of winning.
"We're just going to be ready to play, and do whatever we have to do in any down in any game," McCarron said. "I like throwing the ball early, I think it gets you in a rhythm as a quarterback. But as long as we're winning it really doesn't matter to me, really."
Like Saban, it's just about coming out on top.