Nationals

Column: Saban restless in a way rest of us are not

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Column: Saban restless in a way rest of us are not

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) At some point, this much success should have brought joy, or at the very least, a deep sense of satisfaction. It's only made Nick Saban chase each win more relentlessly than the last.

If nothing else, it will be interesting to see him try to top this one.

Alabama's Crimson Tide slipped on the BCS crown for the third time in the last four years Monday night, crushing Notre Dame 42-14 and almost as impressively, forcing a wide grin from its sometimes dour and always serious coach. Small wonder. The win was Saban's fourth national championship, which left him tied with Notre Dame's Frank Leahy for second on The Associated Press' all-time list, and behind only Paul ``Bear'' Bryant, the most famed of his predecessors at Alabama.

``I'm satisfied with this team because of what they accomplished,'' Saban said afterward.

But he has a rule that celebrations are cut short after 48 hours - and despite the biggest of wins - a rule is a rule.

``Two days from now,'' Saban said without a hint of humor, ``we got to start on next year.''

The weekend before the championship, more than a few people wondered whether Saban might finally open up, the way Urban Meyer did while still coaching at Florida a while back, the way some of his peers have when their legacy, like Saban's, was secured. Saban did - just not the way most expected.

He began with a story about inheriting his uncompromising work ethic from a father that he and everyone else in their tucked-away corner of West Virginia always called ``Big Nick.''

``There was a bum that used to come to my dad's service station early in the morning because he'd give him free coffee and doughnuts,'' Saban said. ``We had had a tough game the night before, I don't remember whether it was basketball game, a football game or whatever. The guy was giving me a hard time and I sort of sassed him. I was 17 years old. I got the strap right on the spot.

``It was the right thing,'' he added quickly. ``I needed to learn a lesson. I was disrespectful to an older person, regardless of the situation.''

Saban rarely comes off as a man who speaks from the heart. More often, he sounds like someone cobbling together bits and pieces culled from a shelf's worth of books on motivational speaking, which Saban, not surprisingly, has turned into a lucrative sideline. Maybe that's what made that story he told about his father seem even more revealing when the subject came up a day later.

This time, the lesson was not about respect, but about always striving for ``a standard of excellence, a perfection.'' Saban recalled being 11 years old, already working at that same service station by then. His responsibilities ran the gamut from pumping gas and collecting the cash to checking the oil and tires, and finally, washing the cars.

``I hated the navy blue and black cars, because when you wiped them off, the streaks were hard to get out. And if there were any streaks when he came,'' Saban paused, referring to ``Big Nick'' again, ``you had to do it over.''

Sports is not the only place where the father-son dynamic ignites a spark of ambition that grows and grows until it becomes a consuming flame. And there are men like Saban atop every profession. They clamber up the ladder without regard for consequences, treating each job like an audition for the next one. His story is instructive that way.

Saban played defensive back at Kent State, despite standing only 5-foot-6, and the determination he showed won him a job as a graduate assistant there in 1972. Next came a half-dozen more stops as an assistant - including a season with the NFL's Houston Oilers - before Saban landed his first head-coaching job at Toledo in 1990. He brought the school a Mid-American Conference title in his only season there, bailing out to become defensive coordinator with the NFL's Cleveland Browns under then-coach Bill Belichick.

In the ensuing 15 years, Saban burned through three more jobs, each one good enough to be considered a ``destination'' among his peers - first Michigan State, then LSU, where he won his first national title, and finally with the Miami Dolphins. Instead of feeling like he'd arrived, Saban remained restless in a way the rest of us are not. After two years, including his first losing season as a head coach, he flat-out denied he was leaving for the vacant job at Alabama - and then lit out for Tuscaloosa three weeks later.

That was 2007, and Saban is still there six seasons later, longer than his tenure lasted anywhere else. He's been so successful he not only owns the town and the state; he's even won over the fans and alumni who used to insist no coach deserved the Crimson Tide job without a connection to Bryant. Some of the most stubborn have made that connection themselves now, mentioning Saban in the same sentence with Bryant, and adding the ``D-word (dynasty)'' at the end that was once reserved for Bryant as well.

For his part, Saban has sunk roots in Tuscaloosa, even relocating the ``Nick's Kids Fund'' charity he and wife Terry set up more than a decade ago. It's actually named for ``Big Nick,'' the blue-collar taskmaster and former Pop Warner League coach who taught his son never to take on a job unless he intended to do it right.

Judged by winning percentage, he's certainly done right by nearly every team that hired him. The only remorse he feels is not having figured it out in time to tell ``Big Nick'' thanks.

``Probably when I was a senior in college, that's probably when I realized it. And my first year of graduate school was when he passed away. I never really ever told him,'' Saban said, ``which I regret.''

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

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Is Nationals closer Sean Doolittle being pushed too much early in the season?

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Is Nationals closer Sean Doolittle being pushed too much early in the season?

Sean Doolittle joked about his usage early last May. In late April, he pitched three consecutive days. May 3, he picked up a five-out save. Being pushed so early in the season opened his eyes behind his clear goggles. 

“I guess the training wheels are off,” Doolittle said then. 

The Nationals pushed Doolittle because early April was bad. A four-game, season-opening sweep of Cincinnati gave way to an 11-16 first month. Washington played at a 70-win pace the three-plus weeks after leaving Ohio feeling good about itself. Which forced new manager Davey Martinez to predominantly use only the relievers he had the utmost trust in. Doolittle was part of that band, and pitched 12 innings in 12 appearances across April. He pitched 12 more in May, seven in June, three in July and zero in August because he was injured. 

Doolittle has 10 appearances on his ledger this season. Seven games remain in April. Washington enters play Tuesday a game under .500, roiled by the league’s worst bullpen. He’ll have every chance to pass 12 appearances by the end of April, something he’s done once before. That was in 2016. Doolittle threw just 39 innings that year because shoulder inflammation did not allow him to pitch in July or August. 

Which begs multiple questions: Is his usage out of the ordinary as compared to the league? How foreign is it for him? And, is there any reasonable way to avoid it when managing the league’s worst bullpen? 

To the last question first. No. No is the answer. Martinez can’t trust anyone outside of Doolittle no matter the situation. Wander Suero and Kyle Barraclough are probably 2-3 in the Bullpen Trust Rankings, at the moment. Each allowed a home run Monday night in Colorado. Which is why Doolittle enters 5-0 games, adding another appearance to his total. 

Doolittle’s total pitches thrown is not outlandish as compared to general relievers in the rest of the league. Coming into Tuesday, Doolittle was 33rd in the National League among bullpen dwellers. The Mets have three of the top eight among NL relievers in pitches thrown. Their bullpen is 27th in ERA. In other words, New York is bludgeoning a specific trio early in the season just to achieve a bottom-end result. That’s a bad mix. 

But, Doolittle’s pitch count matters more specific to him and when related to closers. He’s thrown more than 1,000 pitches once -- six years ago when he made a career-high 70 appearances for Oakland. A 928-pitch season followed. Otherwise, he has never eclipsed 800 pitches in a year. He’s averaging 17.3 pitches per outing this season. If he makes 60 appearances -- 10 fewer than his career-best -- Doolittle will still set a career-high in pitches thrown, at this rate. 

Doolittle is also third among full-time National League closers in pitches thrown. 

Another way to look at common usage is simply checking on last season’s top-five saves leaders in the National League. Wade Davis pitched 65 ⅓ innings, Kenley Jansen 71 ⅔, Felipe Vazquez 70, Brad Boxberger 53 ⅓, Raisel Iglesias 72. The top-five closers worked less the season before. Only Corey Knebel cracked 70 innings. Three of the top five did not exceed 60. 

The most rapid -- and perhaps only -- in-house way to lighten Doolittle’s work is to get Trevor Rosenthal right. If Rosenthal is ever able to take just two appearances per month from Doolittle, a profound benefit for Doolittle will follow. This is a premise Washington was working under when it signed Rosenthal. It’s also a premise emphatically flushed by his early yips.

Piled together, a 70-plus appearance, 1,000-pitch season for Doolittle is extreme. Yet, that’s where he’s heading, if he can make it.

 

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Redskins Talk hosts "Redskins On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

Redskins Talk hosts "Redskins On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

It's the moment we've all been waiting for: finding out who the Redskins are going to take as their No. 15 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

After much anticipation and countless mock drafts, Redskins fans will finally find out what's to come for the Burgundy and Gold in the upcoming NFL season. 

And we couldn't let you handle this news alone: So we've got the Redskins Talk crew hosting a special "Redskins on the Clock" live stream to address, analyze and hopefully rejoice over the 'Skins decision. 

<<CHECK OUT NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S LATEST NFL MOCK DRAFT>>

On Thursday, Apr. 25th, JP Finlay, Peter Hailey and Mitchell Tischler from the Redskins Talk Podcast, along with guests Travis Thomas and Trevor Matich, will be offering a live look into their thoughts and concerns surrounding both the Redskins' pick and all of Round 1. The live stream will be available on the MyTeams by NBC Sports App from approximately 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

And if you haven't already downloaded the MyTeams App, you can do so right now, RIGHT HERE.

Redskins Talk Podcast "Redskins on the Clock" Special

CLICK HERE to watch the daily live stream of the Redskins Talk Podcast

When: 8 p.m. - (approximately) 11 p.m. ET, Thursday, Apr. 25th 

Live Stream: Click to stream Redskins Talk Podcast Live every day this week

Want to subscribe to Redskins Talk?: 
Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19

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