Nick Saban, more than anybody else we'll see this week, is the guy you want to believe. You don't even have to like him to want to believe. He has a way of putting the entire packed press hall in the palm of his tiny hand, without raising his voice or lifting a finger. Highlights from our time with SEC Media Days' leadoff man:
• Tanned and relaxed to within an inch of his life, resembling nothing so much as a fine Coach satchel, Saban begins this year's talk exactly as he did last time, by effusively (really) thanking the assembled media. This has the reliable effect of making a spacious room full of grown men purr like kittens with all their fur facing the right way.
• On to business: Brace yourselves for a very great shock -- Nick Saban wants to talk about THIS YEAR. It takes him 90 seconds to first mention THE PROCESS, and he follows that up by insisting, "We're not really defending a championship ... Championship's a part of history ... We're not into repeating." This is a veiled warning to all present not to ask him about the difficulties of living up to the glories of 2009. No less than six writers will bring it up anyway.
• On to his second, equally reliable talking point: Expectations management. "The realistic view of this team is that we lost eleven starters." We get our first CyberTyde-created metaphor with, "Blinking lights are people who don't do things they're supposed to do."
• That said: There is expectations management, and EXPECTATIONS MANAGEMENT CON GUSTO. Saban mentions the Tide's first game against San Jose State, and begins the next sentence with "We have a difficult schedule."
• And now, to the meat: With a terrifying slow burn, Saban builds to his version of a fever pitch in attacking nefarious sports agents, asking, "How are they any better than a pimp?" He delivers this, as with all his disdainful remarks, with the icy detachment you've come to expect from the coach with fiber-optics in his veins. Saban wants to suspend the licenses of agents who affect the eligibility of college players, calling it "entrapment of young people at a difficult time in their life." We're all riveted. The interviews are going to be downhill from here in terms of melodrama, barring Les Miles actually setting himself on fire in the name of instituting malleable time after the two-minute mark.
• Asked about his former protege, Saban calls Derek Dooley "a fine young coach [who] did a marvelous, marvelous job for us," and Barbara Dooley "the best PR person out there."
• Mark Ingram is the featured player interviewee, and is being asked every bullshit question under the sun, from who his best friends on the team are to how he handles the horrific pressures of invites to the Playboy Mansion. While he struggles through this quagmire of frippery with admirable politeness, we're going to take a short break. Dan Mullen's on deck, and we're off to douse our Manson lamps with prescription eyedrops, in anticipation of his oddly captivating, nonblinking stare. Stay tuned.