Saban and Meyer draw spotlight at SEC Media Days Print
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Thursday, 26 July 2007 11:28
NCAAF Headline News

 HOOVER, Ala. (AP) -It was a familiar scene for Nick Saban these days: Several dozen crimson-clad Alabama fans clamoring for autographs or just a moment's attention from the coach they're hoping will quickly return the Crimson Tide to greatness.
You'd think he had just led his team to a Southeastern Conference and national title when he was escorted into the league's media days early Thursday morning. Actually, that's the achievement of Florida's Urban Meyer, who went to the podium a few hours after Saban.
But at a site just 45 minutes from Tuscaloosa, it was Saban who garnered the most attention, recreating a scene his players are getting used to.
Cornerback Simeon Castille even calls his new coach ``a rock star, kind of'' in this state.
``It's just wherever he goes, everybody is in a frenzy,'' Castille said. ``Even when he first got here it was like that, and it's still like that. I think it's awesome how excited everyone is that he's here.
``I'm glad he's here. The fans are glad.''
More than glad, the fans appear downright giddy - from the overflow crowd for the spring game at 92,000-seat Bryant-Denny Stadium to a media guide that features Saban photos on both the front and back covers to Thursday's eager reception.
Saban isn't actively courting or even encouraging all that attention. He didn't stop to sign autographs on his arrival, and seemed less than thrilled with that coach-centric media guide design though it might have been appropriate.
If any of Saban's peers can relate, it's Meyer. Fresh from leading Utah to an unbeaten season, he needed only two years to lead the Gators back to the top.
``I'm not quite sure what he's gone through,'' Meyer said. ``I have a feeling because I've kind of witnessed it myself. Maybe not the same level. But that would happen at most schools in the Southeastern Conference.''
Saban, who won a share of the 2003 national title with LSU, isn't promising to duplicate Meyer's rapid turnaround or instantly satisfy fans' high expectations.
``It's great to be optimistic. It's probably not so good to be pessimistic,'' Saban said. ``But it's best to be realistic.''
The reality is that he inherits a team that went 6-7 last season and lost its final four games, including an embarrassing loss to Mississippi State that helped prompt Mike Shula's firing.
But Saban's players aren't shying away from the heightened expectations.
``We're expected to win,'' center Antoine Caldwell said. ``We have enough talent on this football team where we should win games. We have enough talent on this team where we should win big football games.''
Saban's return to the SEC has heightened the intensity of Alabama's rivalry with LSU, widely considered the Western Division front-runner. He said a Tide administrative assistant even had her tires slashed while attending a wedding in Baton Rouge, La.
``We have a tremendous amount of respect for LSU and we have a lot of great relationships in Louisiana and want to continue to have those,'' Saban said. ``We hope that people understand that it's our love and passion for college football that brought us back.''
Saban's first meeting with his former team on Nov. 3 is something even Meyer said he's looking forward to.
``I know how passionate these fans are down here in the South,'' Meyer said. ``That's going to be a great story line in college football this year. A little bit like when Coach (Steve Spurrier) came back to Florida last year. What a great story line for college football.''
Another nice story line: The Gators' bid for a repeat national title, something the school's basketball team has already managed.
Meyer has brought in Florida hoops coach Billy Donovan and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick to discuss that challenge with his team.
``Don't bask in our glory, that's how I feel about it,'' safety Tony Joiner said. ``We had a great year last year but it was last year. If we live in last year, we won't win this year.''
The Gators have only 21 scholarship upperclassmen on the roster and nine players were drafted after the season, including first-round defenders Jarvis Moss and Reggie Nelson. Plus, Tim Tebow is going from a complementary role with quarterback Chris Leak to the starting job.
Receiver Andre Caldwell feels Tebow is up to the task and is a better passer than some fans realize since he was used more as a runner last season.
``He's a lot more confident than most quarterbacks,'' Caldwell said. ``He believes in himself. He works harder than anybody I've ever seen in my life.''
Plus, he said, ``He throws a great ball.''
Meyer said a common denominator for his most successful teams at Florida and Utah was they were ``great practice teams.''
And this group?
``Unfortunately, I've seen some chinks in the armor,'' Meyer said. ``I've seen some things show up that's not correlated to a tough football team. However, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt.''
 

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