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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 often-unsmiling 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.

``It's not about me,'' he said insisted afterward. ``It's about seeing all those people being happy and proud of what this team was able to accomplish.

``That's the thing that makes me happy and whether I look it or not,'' he added, cracking what might have been his second grin of the night, ``I'm happy as hell.''

For the next 24 hours or so.

``Just because we won the national championship doesn't mean you don't have to go do the right things the right way at the right time like you're always supposed to. ... So,'' he continued a moment later, ``we're going to help them do that starting Wednesday.''

The weekend before the title game, 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. He 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 happens to have turned into a lucrative sideline. Maybe that's what made the 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.

Saban's counterpart, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, said his colleague's success made quibbling over descriptions irrelevant.

``I measure success as a head coach with consistency. Some people use the word `dynasty.' (It) starts at the top and filters its way through the entire program,'' he said. ``And what Coach Saban has been able to do has really put an exclamation point on consistently putting elite programs and football teams together at the University of Alabama.''

For his part, Saban has sunk deep 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 out what ``Big Nick'' gave him in time to say 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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2019 Redskins Draft Bracket: DK Metcalf and TJ Hockenson would inject the offense with needed talent

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USA TODAY Sports

2019 Redskins Draft Bracket: DK Metcalf and TJ Hockenson would inject the offense with needed talent

NBC Sports Washington wants Redskins fans to help decide the team's ideal 2019 first-round pick by voting in the Redskins Draft Bracket on Twitter. Before you vote, though, take in this breakdown of the next matchup.

Looking for a stat to describe the rough season the Redskins receivers had in 2018? Well, there's tons to choose from.

The team's wideouts had the second-fewest catches of 20-plus yards in the league. Antonio Brown had more grabs, yards and touchdowns than Washington's top three targets combined. Josh Doctson led the squad in receiving yards — with a measly 532.

You could easily find plenty more, but those three are all you need to realize that DK Metcalf should absolutely be on the franchise's mind when it comes to their first-round pick this April.

While Metcalf's numbers at Ole Miss won't overly impress you, his athleticism and potential explosiveness as a pro absolutely does. That's why it's no surprise the WR met with the Redskins while at the Combine, as Jay Gruden and Co. are well aware that they must become more dangerous on the outside.

As with any prospect, there are questions with Metcalf. He only had 67 catches in 21 games in school, and while he shredded most of the drills in Indianapolis, his short area agility numbers were worse than Tom Brady. That's not great.

Regardless, he'd instantly become the offense's scariest athlete, and you have to like his chances of at least contributing splash plays early while he learns the nuances of the NFL.

The 'Skins don't just need improvement out wide, however. Jordan Reed was largely ineffective despite playing for much of 2018, Vernon Davis is 35 years old and Jeremy Sprinkle isn't much of a threat in the air at tight end.

Perhaps TJ Hockenson could be their answer. NFL.com says the Iowa product "is an ascending talent with a chance to become one of the best all-around tight ends in the game." 

One problem the Burgundy and Gold have encountered in recent years is Reed and Davis don't help much as blockers, while Sprinkle won't worry a defense with his hands. Taking Hockenson at pick No. 15 would mean Gruden could finally have a guy who excels in both areas.

It remains to be seen whether Metcalf or Hockenson will last until the Redskins' choice, as they could continue to rise up boards as the draft draws closer. If both or either is there, however, they need to be heavily considered. 

While the offense may have to be run-oriented again in 2019, it still needs more weapons for whoever is under center. They won't be able to grind out 13-play scoring drives every time they need a TD, and grabbing Metcalf or Hockenson would go a long way in introducing a new element to the group.

You've heard the case for both players. Now, retweet or like depending on whom you'd prefer to see move on in the bracket.

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How Tom Wilson's first game back from suspension against Minnesota sparked the Caps

How Tom Wilson's first game back from suspension against Minnesota sparked the Caps

WASHINGTON -– Capitals forward Tom Wilson did not miss a beat. That’s what happens when a player sits the first 14 games of a season because of an NHL-mandated suspension for a hit to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in a preseason game. 
 
With his suspension reduced from 20 games to 16, Wilson was suddenly eligible to play Nov. 13 when Washington played a game against the Minnesota Wild.

Wilson scored a goal in the first period – and ironically was penalized on the same play for running into the goalie.

He later had a fight with Wild forward Marcus Foligno. He also helped the penalty kill strop five of six chances. That pretty much summed it up. 


 
Wilson sees Minnesota again tonight when the Capitals host the Wild at Capital One Arena (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). That first game in St. Paul sparked a turnaround for the Capitals, who were lethargic early in the season as they tried to stay emotionally engaged after last spring’s dramatic championship run through the Stanley Cup playoffs.
 
Wilson’s return against the Wild had a visceral effect. The players had a jump not seen often in a 7-6-3 start to the season that included back-to-back home losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Arizona Coyotes. 
 
The Capitals won 5-2 that night against the Wild and went on an 8-2-0 run in Wilson’s first 10 games. He had eight goals and seven assists in those games before sustaining a concussion during a fight in a Dec. 4 loss at the Vegas Golden Knights. 
 
Wilson missed three more games and has only played 55 total. But he’s had a major impact on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and either center Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom. Wilson has 21 goals and 16 assists. Those are both career highs. His 37 points are also a career best. And that’s all in 23 fewer games than the 78 he played last season. There are eight games left for Wilson to top 40 points for the first time. 

Djoos returns

The lower-body injury to Michal Kempny sustained Wednesday means Christian Djoos is back in the lineup. He will be on the top pair with John Carlson. Djoos is playing just his second game since Feb. 23. The Capitals will be experimenting here down the stretch thinking Kempny will be out for a while. It’s a good opportunity for Djoos, who has played with Carlson before.

Washington will not recall a defensemen from AHL Hershey for now. They will stick with six unless another player is needed during the remaining three games of this four-game homestand.

50

Alex Ovechkin couldn’t find the back of the net in Wednesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to Tampa Bay, but he is still just two goals shy of 50 for his career. That would be his eighth 50-goal season. Ovechkin finished last year with 49. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy have had more (nine each).

Ovechkin always torches Minnesota with 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in just 15 career games.

That’s his highest goals-per-game average against any franchise.

Holtby goes

No surprise here as the Capitals don’t have any more back-to-back games and will ride Holtby down the stretch until they possibly clinch the Metropolitan Division. They lead by three points over the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins and have eight games to go.

Holtby is 8-2-0 in his career against Minnesota with one shutout and a .922 save percentage. 

Going streaking

The Capitals have won eight games in a row against Minnesota, led by former Washington coach Bruce Boudreau.

Expect a good push from the Wild, however, who are still in the playoff chase in the Western Conference. At 34-31-9, they have 77 points and are one point behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second and final wild card spot. 

Expected lineup

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly
Andre Burakovsky – Nic Dowd – Travis Boyd
Christian Djoos – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Nick Jensen
Braden Holtby
Pheonix Copley
Scratches: Chandler Stephenson, Dmitrij Jaskin
Injured: Michal Kempny

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