AP Sports Writer
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The five-star recruits keep rolling into Alabama, replenishing the roster every time the NFL prospects funnel out.
Sounds simple, right? Alabama’s formula for success goes way beyond that revolving door of talent but it’s a pretty good starting point. Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide show no signs of slowing down either on the field or on the recruiting trail in a program where anything short of a national title is all but treated as a failure.
“They just have outstanding players and they’re supremely coached,” said Gene Stallings, who coached Alabama to the 1992 national championship. “That’s a tough combination to beat.”
It is indeed. Ask Auburn, Michigan State, Notre Dame, LSU and just about anybody else who’s had to try since Saban’s run of domination began in 2008, his second season in Tuscaloosa.
Look beyond the question of whether Saban can bring a fourth national title back to Tuscaloosa in Monday night’s game with Clemson. The more notable topic might be, when will this annual run of title contention end already? That may depend on how much longer the 64-year-old Saban sticks around.
It’s been two years since he won a national championship, after all. It only seems like an eternity for a program that had collected three of four through 2012 while going 97-12 over the last eight seasons, easily the most wins in the FBS during that span. Boise State is second with 90.
Saban does have the task each season of battling the big heads and stamping down any sense of entitlement among his players. Sometimes, he’s more successful — like this season — than others.
“Whatever has been accomplished in the past certainly doesn’t have anything to do with what the future holds,” Saban said. “The future is really in front of our team and our players all the time.”
He sticks to his famed “Process” — a blend of fundamentals, focus and psychology covering everything from recruiting to offseason conditioning. It’s worked for three national titles at Alabama and the 2003 crown at LSU.
With a win over the Tigers, Saban could join fellow Alabama icon Bear Bryant as the only major college coach to win five national titles.
Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was on the staff of two national championship teams under Pete Carroll at Southern California, so he has an idea of what it takes even if he so far hasn’t been able to translate that as a head coach at USC or Tennessee.
“You can’t compete all the time like this without a system, without a process, whatever that is,” Kiffin said. “Pete Carroll used to say that anyone can do it one time, but if you’re going to have a championship program you have to do it again and again and again. That’s the real sign.
“Here we’re in the middle of a dynasty because of the process with different players and different coaches. He’s had a number of coaching changes. It all goes back to coach Saban and his philosophy, and the players buy into it.”
The latest coaching change comes with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart leaving to take over the Georgia program after the championship game. Saban has already hired Jeremy Pruitt.
The far bigger talent defection comes on the field.
Once again, the Tide will likely lose a number of high NFL draft picks early, potentially including juniors like Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and defensive linemen A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen.
No problem, really. The backups at all three positions include former five-star recruits for a program that has won six of the last eight national recruiting titles according to Rivals.com.
“If there’s a catnip for recruits, it’s winning national championships,” said Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals. “You can be consistent in recruiting five- and four-star athletes to the program if you’re in the discussion every year as a national championship contender.
“And Nick Saban is that guy. A down year is a two-loss season.”
NFL offensive lineman Barrett Jones was part of the 2008 recruiting class that really got things rolling for Saban at Alabama. The group included players like wide receiver Julio Jones, tailback Mark Ingram and safety Mark Barron.
Barrett Jones said Saban has been able to create a culture where the focus is on doing the little things and ignoring the scoreboard.
The challenge is sustaining and recreating that each season.
“Now, they expect us to be a national contender every year, and it’s pretty amazing in this day and age,” said Jones, who was part of all three national championship teams. “I think more and more teams and more and more conferences are starting to catch up to the way we do things and try to replicate it. It’s a compliment to us.
“It’s definitely competitive, but nobody does it better than coach Saban.”