Alabama returns to practice field for title game

Posted Dec. 19, 2011, at 9:57 p.m.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nick Saban is a busy, busy man.

No. 2 Alabama’s coach celebrated his anniversary Sunday and has the birthdays of his wife and two kids all in December, not to mention Christmas.

Let’s see. What else? Oh yeah, he has to find an offensive coordinator and prepare for the Jan. 9 BCS championship game with No. 1 LSU in the Louisiana Superdome. Saban and the Crimson Tide returned to the practice field — indoors, of course — Monday.

“It’s all coming up at once,” he said.

Monday was also the first chance for departing offensive coordinator Jim McElwain to meet with the team since taking the head coaching job at Colorado State last week.

He’ll be with the Tide (11-1) through the title game.

“We love Coach McElwain and we’re really sad to see him go,” left tackle Barrett Jones said. “We had kind of a moment with him. We clapped for him. We’re going to really miss him.”

Saban said McElwain’s double duty won’t affect preparation and that he did the same thing for several regular season games and two playoff outings when he was the Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator and took over at Michigan State.

“He’s done a great job here for us, in a lot of different ways,” Saban said. “I think the players are very happy for him. I think he’s the kind of guy that has a lot of pride in what he does and I don’t think there’s going to be any issues or problems in his commitment to what we’re doing for our team and this game.”

As for finding a replacement, Saban said “there’s no process yet.

“We do our due diligence and research, but our focus is on this game right now,” he said. “We’ll kind of do that a little bit at a time. I don’t think there’s any hurry. I definitely feel like we want to get the best possible guy, and that takes time. I don’t think you can recruit, get ready for a game, practice for a game and try to be interviewing people at the same time. Something’s going to get sort of left out.”

The Tide will practice in Tuscaloosa through Friday and then break for Christmas until midweek. Saban said all the players who were nursing injuries late in the season — including safety Mark Barron — are healthy and practicing after a three-week layoff.

Saban said it’s a return to fundamentals similar to the first day of preseason camp. Since they’re preparing for a game indoors, they don’t have to brave the wind and chilly weather.

“My question would be, why not practice inside?” Saban said. “What would be the advantage of practicing outside? I think if we were practicing outside, you all (reporters) would be asking me why are y’all practicing outside when you’re playing inside”

Indoors or out, practice, was a sign that the awards circuit travel is done and it’s time for preparing on the field instead of just through conditioning and weight-lifting.

Saban and tailback Trent Richardson — the Doak Walker Award winner — attended the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York, where Richardson was third. Jones won the Outland and several defensive players were finalists for other awards.

“We would trade all our awards for a national championship,” Jones said.

The trips did provide some fraternization chances for LSU and Alabama. Richardson and LSU cornerback and fellow Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu were shown clowning around in New York, where Saban and Tigers coach Les Miles sat next to each other at the Heisman ceremony.

Saban, a former LSU coach, said it was anything but awkward.

“I didn’t mind sitting by him,” he said. “I think it was good. I showed him my phone and showed him how many calls I was getting from Louisiana people who were blowing my phone up.

“He thought it was funny, I thought it was funny — and changed numbers on Monday.”

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