Bill Belichick had some extremely kind words for his longtime friend Nick Saban after Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide rallied to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship on Saturday.

The New England Patriots coach was finishing his preparations for the Minnesota Vikings during the collegiate showdown, but he was able to catch some of it, watching Alabama erase a 14-point deficit to win 35-28 and secure the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff.

Saban, who coached on Belichick’s Cleveland Browns staff in the early 1990s, has run the most successful program in college football over the last decade, guiding the Tide to six SEC championships and five national titles since taking over as head coach in 2007.

Belichick, whose Patriots have won two Super Bowls and appeared in three more during that span, was asked Monday about Saban’s Alabama teams possessing the same type of mental toughness usually found in New England. He responded with a lengthy tribute to the Bama boss, saying: “There’s nobody I have more respect for in football than Nick Saban. Period.”

“Look, of course, it’s flattering to be compared with Nick and the great success that he’s had there,” Belichick said. “The way his team’s performed, I don’t think anybody’s done it better than he has. I think probably every coach in football is trying to do it as well as he does it and has done it. But they do a tremendous job there. Nick’s a tremendous coach.

“I certainly learned a lot from him during the time we were together. He’s been a great friend and a coach I have tremendous respect and admiration for. And whenever we get a chance to visit, it’s really a great opportunity to me to learn from somebody that I respect so much and know how much knowledge and — I would say just knowledge and application, real football application — he has. …

“They win almost every game they play anyways, so it’s really incredible what he’s done there, the program he’s built, how consistent he is and the way he does it with a lot of class and great discipline and great execution and passion.”

Alabama, the reigning national champion, will play the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 29 in one of the two CFB semifinals. The Patriots, who knocked off the Vikings 24-10 at Gillette Stadium, have four games remaining on their regular-season schedule, including a visit to the Miami Dolphins this Sunday.

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