Saban looks ahead to next challenge

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The morning after Alabama defeated Texas 37-21 in the BCS National Championship Game, someone asked Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban about a repeat in 2010. His answer revealed the essence of what makes him tick … which is to say, every crystal football has a dark cloud.

"I'm always thinking ahead, anticipating problems," Saban said. "Every success brings a new set of problems. … Being able to manage that is what allows you to be successful with more consistency."

But even realists celebrate sometimes. Saban said he spent a quiet postgame with family and friends. He sounded genuinely touched about the prospect, raised Thursday night by Alabama athletic director Mal Moore, that a statue of him will join those of Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Paul "Bear" Bryant and Gene Stallings outside Bryant-Denny Stadium.

"In all honesty," Saban said, "I guess that when you're driven, and you put as much into what you do as we have, not just for this year but for 30-something years, you would hope that something you do leaves a mark."

Saban's teams leave a mark, all right. The 2009 Tide won on the strength of a physical running game -- led by Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and freshman Trent Richardson -- and a punishing defense. They even punished Saban on the Rose Bowl sideline in the waning seconds of the game.

That, Saban said, is why he glowered after getting the traditional Gatorade shower. On the morning after, he made light of it.

"Our defensive players do a pretty good job of hitting," Saban said, "but they're not supposed to hit you in the head with the bucket, either. …. The intensity of the dump was the problem."

Saban praised the "tremendous resiliency and competitive spirit" of the Longhorns. Alabama scored 10 points in the final :29 of the first half to go ahead 24-6. The touchdown came on a 28-yard interception return by defensive lineman Marcell Dareus.

"The best thing and the worst thing that happened last night was we scored with :03 to go in the half," Saban said. "We get a celebration penalty, which, I know everybody says, 'Why would you be mad at that guy for scoring a touchdown?' But I'm coaching the team to get better. I'm not coaching the moment. … At halftime of that game, because of that circumstance, it was like the locker room after the SEC championship game. We were very flat in the third quarter. I had to stand up on a chair and say, 'This is a 60-minute game. We need to refocus, re-center what we're doing, get our energy right, quit wasting energy. You only have so much of it. You have to channel it in the right direction.'"

Dareus -- who also made the hit that knocked Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the game -- is only a sophomore. The Alabama defense featured three All-Americans. Two of the three, corner Javier Arenas and defensive tackle Terrence Cody, are seniors. Junior linebacker Rolando McClain is all but certain to enter the NFL draft. Saban said he generally advises anyone who will be a first-round draft choice to move on.

That explains why Saban questioned the notion that the Crimson Tide would start their quest to repeat at the top of the polls.

"People who make those statements," Saban said, "sort of just look at the periphery of, 'You got [wideout] Julio Jones, you got Mark Ingram, you got Trent Richardson. The quarterback's [Greg McElroy] coming back, so therefore, everything's turning up roses.'"

Sorry, Nick, given that Alabama hasn't lost an SEC regular-season game in two seasons, and given that yes, so many stars do return, you just might be stuck at No. 1. It's one more problem brought on by success.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.