Alabama knew it had a gem when it hired Nick Saban as its football coach two years ago. Still, Saban’s transformation of the Crimson Tide happened faster than even the most ardent fan could have anticipated.

After going 7-6 in 2007, The Tide rolled in 2008. Alabama went 12-1 and was one victory away from playing in the BCS Championship. 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.

In voting by college football writers, he drew 32 of a possible 62 votes. He beat Texas Tech’s Mike Leach, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, Penn State’s Joe Paterno and Ball State’s Brady Hoke.

“The commitment, work ethic and perseverance that this team showed was one of the best I’ve ever been around,” Saban said.