MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Sitting on the sidelines of the field that will host their titanic matchup in just two days’ time, Irish coach Brian Kelly and Alabama coach Nick Saban held court in front of hordes of reporters today at the BCS National Championship Game media day. Each swatted away NFL rumors and talk of his own place in history, instead preferring to talk about the players surrounding them and the dynamics of the game ahead.
Saban, sitting on the field on which he coached the Miami Dolphins for two seasons, emphatically denied he might return to the NFL with six head coaching vacancies still open.
“I don’t have any unfinished business in the NFL,” he said. “I want to be a college coach. I’m not looking for new challenges.
“I know myself. I know the best path for me … [My family is] happy with the path that we’re on, so there’s really nothing to talk about.”
A short while later, Kelly — who has spent his entire career in collegiate athletics — said he had no intention of coaching anywhere but Notre Dame.
“When I took the job at Notre Dame, I think I said it was a dream job. But I never went around day to day anything about being the Notre Dame head coach, because the job that I had in hand was what I was thinking about,” he said. “I think that’s the same thing with the NFL. I think from my perspective I’ve got the best job in the country, NFL, college, high school, whatever. I just look at the place that I’m at and thankful for the opportunity that I have.”
Kelly said he was not aware if any serious offers had been made.
“If that did occur, then all that stuff is secondary to this football game. My focus — this is the biggest game that I’ve ever been involved in, so my focus is 100 percent on this football game,” he said. “It’s flattering if there is interest, which I don’t know that there is, but again, that is such a secondary topic for me right now, it’s all about this game.”
Both coaches said history would have no bearing on how they motivate their respective squads.
“As we get into Monday night we’re going to play the game the way we’ve played it all year. We’re going to play fast, we’re going to play aggressive because we don’t carry all those perceived burdens,” Kelly said. “They’re 18 to 21 year olds, they have no idea what that history means. We do, our fan base certainly does, but what I’ve tried hard to do is let our kids go play the game and let their actions speak, and not let all of this outside perceived pressure for the entire Notre Dame nation to weigh heavily on them.”
Saban dismissed the idea that another national title — which would be his third in four years — would put him in the same league as legendary Crimson Tide coach Bear Bryant.
“I don’t think it would be fair at all to Bear Bryant and the tradition that he created and the standard of excellence that he sustained for years and years and years,” he said. “There’s no one that I know that I would say should be even spoken of in the same sort of circumstance at all.”
Saban refused to use the word “dynasty” and said just two days after winning last year’s national title, he met with the 2012 squad and set a new challenge for them.
“The first thing I said to this team was, ‘you guys are not the national champions,’” he said. “’Some of you played on the national championship team, but the challenges that this team has are all in front of you … and what you did last year is not going to have any impact or effect on what you do next year.”
Kelly, however, said Saban had created a consistently successful program he hoped to emulate.
“We’re talking about historic success,” he said. “I’ve said this a number of times, your program is defined in consistency, and Alabama is that model. I concede to that. It’s where we want to be.”
With the countdown to kickoff ticking ever closer to zero, Kelly said he and his squad were anxious for kickoff.
“When you get a chance to go before the media at the venue, it finally hits you that it’s getting close. It’s been a long journey to get to this point for us. Certainly we’re excited to be here. But more importantly, we’re here to win a football game, “he said. “Our kids have enjoyed Miami. … But you can sense and you can feel that they’re ready to play, and I know as a football team we’ll be ready to play Monday night.”