TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Four straight losses were bad enough for Alabama, and one humbling defeat to Louisiana-Monroe was even worse.
Nick Saban could have lost his team right there. Instead, he might well have claimed it.
'Coach came in and talked to us and was like, 'We've got an opportunity to change things with this bowl game,' Crimson Tide safety Rashad Johnson said.
The Tide won the Independence Bowl over Colorado to end last season. It then won the following 12 as well, spending much of the 2008 season ranked No. 1. That startling turnaround and Alabama's return to national prominence brought Saban another honor Tuesday - Associated Press Coach of the Year. He also won the AP award with LSU in 2003.
This season, Saban led a team with only nine scholarship seniors to a 12-1 record and a Sugar Bowl date against Utah for only its second Bowl Championship Series berth.
In voting by college football writers, he drew 32 of a possible 62 votes. He outdistanced Texas Tech's Mike Leach (nine), Utah's Kyle Whittingham (six), Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson (five), Penn State's Joe Paterno (three) and Ball State's Brady Hoke (two). Five coaches got one vote apiece.
Saban led the Tide to a five-game turnaround after going 7-6 in his debut season after he was hired for a then-college football record $4 million a year. No other Alabama coach has engineered such a Year 2 turnaround.
The transformation happened faster than the most ardent fan could have anticipated.
Alabama was in the chase for a BCS national title shot until losing to Florida in the Southeastern Conference championship game, an unexpected rise for a team that entered the season ranked No. 24.