Given the hectic atmosphere that has been a part of the Alabama-LSU rivalry for over a decade now, and even more significantly given the chaos that is to come over the 48 hours leading up to Saturday’s kickoff, the Nick Saban radio show on Thursday night was an oasis of tranquility.
Perhaps that has to do with the media guest, ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, the man who can bring a football fan to tears faster than a basket of wings doused in Triple XXXXTra Hot 9-1-1 Sauce. Rinaldi was a soothing presence even though he subtly hit Saban with one of his patented three-Kleenex haymakers, a question about Saban’s “toughest times” that elicited a poignant story from the coach about the death of his father, clearly the dominant influence in Saban’s life.
Saban recalled their final conversation, when they discussed Saban’s choice to go into coaching. He also recounted his mother’s reaction, when, after the elder Saban’s sudden passing, she urged the young Nick Saban to continue on that path rather than returning home to help with the family business.
"I'm a kid from West Virginia,” Saban said. “I grew up in a coal-mining town and I pumped gas until I was a junior in college at my dad's service station. So, I'm grateful to be here, to be the coach at Alabama, and I'm not taking this opportunity for granted."
There was another fascinating question — credit to Rinaldi for asking it — about the “most important hour” in Saban’s game preparation. Saban chose two hours, his meetings with the team on Mondays and his pre-game talk every Friday at 3 p.m.
Through it all, Saban seemed at ease, even when the questions turned, inevitably, to LSU and to the status of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
“He’s worked really, really hard to try to get back,” Saban said without giving a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ that he seems determined to withhold until Saturday. “It’s amazing that he’s had a really different attitude this time around with the same injury that he had a year ago. I think that you’re always a little apprehensive when you do something for the first time. You don’t know how quickly it’s going to heal. You don’t know when you’re going to be able to do the next little thing that you’d like to do to be able to get ready to play. He had a lot more confidence early on because he’d actually been through it once before. So, he was more aggressive in rehab and just had a lot of confidence that he wasn’t going to hurt himself any worse.”
One advantage Alabama has had against LSU in recent years has been equanimity. Is it a big game? Yes. Privately, many Alabama players regard it as the biggest annual rivalry. But no one at Alabama — not the players and not Saban — flip out over it.
"Everybody wants to win,” Saban said. “It’s not about wanting to win. It’s what are you willing to do to be able to win, to be able to have the success that you need to have.”
That answer comes on Saturday.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt