Nick Saban's age is not a hot topic entering Saturday night's Southeastern Conference championship game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 11 Florida, and with very good reason.
At 69, the premier coach in college football is showing no signs of slowing, even amid this global pandemic.
Should his Crimson Tide do the expected inside Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium and win a 31st consecutive game over an SEC East foe, Saban would become the oldest coach to win the league title. Paul "Bear" Bryant was 68 years old during the 1981 season when his Alabama team and Georgia shared the crown with 6-0 conference records.
Saban gets asked occasionally how long he plans to continue in Tuscaloosa, with Thursday afternoon the latest example.
"Obviously I love doing what I do, and I want to continue to do it for as long as I feel like I can contribute in a positive way to the program," he said. "That's about the only plan I have for the future. We've got a lot of good players here, and we try to create a lot of value for our players here so they have a better opportunity to be successful in the future.
"If I thought that my presence here was not something that was positive for the University of Alabama or the program or the players, then I would say it would be time not to do it anymore."
Eventually one of Alabama's top-rated signing classes will not play for Saban all the way through. That could be the case with Wednesday's 24-player collection that includes 13 national top-100 prospects, but who is betting against him at this point?
In the past few weeks alone, Saban has endured a false positive test for COVID-19 and a positive test that forced him to miss the Iron Bowl, yet he has combated those personal setbacks by guiding a team that not only stands 10-0 but has won its past six contests by at least four touchdowns.
"It was different," Saban said. "It was the first time in a long time that I couldn't go to practice. It was the first time I had to sit through Zoom meetings. It was very different, but we all adapted and adjusted. Everybody stayed focused on what they needed to do to be able to contribute in a positive way and made it work."
With Auburn undergoing a coaching change after a 6-4 season and with LSU attempting to get to 5-5 this weekend, Alabama's chief challengers this season have been Texas A&M, Georgia and Florida. The three coaches of those schools — Jimbo Fisher, Kirby Smart and Dan Mullen — are a combined 0-16 against Saban.
Mullen bears the brunt of that with his 0-9 mark against the Tide while at Mississippi State, and a win Saturday night would be the biggest of his head-coaching career by far.
"It would be great, but I don't view it in terms of that," Mullen said Thursday. "I view it as it would be great in terms of this year's team for us to go and win an SEC championship."
Fisher is 55 years old, while Mullen and Smart have yet to reach 50. They are pups compared to Saban, who continues to look far younger than his age, even during the late stages of a season that admittedly took a toll.
"I think it's been that way for everybody in the world," Saban said. "I told our players and all the coaches early on that there were going to be a lot of disruptions in this season and things were not going to be normal and that they would probably be more abnormal than normal, and that the team that could handle those disruptions the best would have the best chance to be successful long term.
"So I think our whole organization was kind of geared up for it. We've had a lot of those things happen, and it hasn't affected us, and now we have an opportunity to finish the season the right way, which is another sort of obstacle. Whether you ran track in high school or junior high, the coach would always say, 'Run through the finish line,' and that's the challenge that we have right now."
SEC title game notes
Florida (8-2) will be the home team and will wear the traditional combination of orange helmets, blue jerseys and white pants. ... The Tide and Gators have met 40 times, with Alabama holding a 26-14 series advantage. ... Florida will play for an eighth consecutive Saturday compared to five straight for Alabama. ... Mullen when asked Thursday whether a two-loss team should be considered for the College Football Playoff: "We'll think about that on Saturday night after we win."