Beyond the Bison: What all of us can learn from Alabama football coach Nick Saban

Patrick Dempsey, Staff Writer

Nick Saban is a man who needs no introduction. His well-established reputation added another layer this year when the University of Alabama football played the University of Georgia in football for the national championship. Saban’s gutsy call to put freshman backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in to start the second half when down by 13 points paid off, as the Crimson Tide went on to win this year’s title game in overtime to capture their fifth title in the last nine seasons.

As the dominant coach in his sport and a major figure in the South, Saban’s long list of accomplishments attract a small following that do not view him so favorably in what can be a hostile college football fan environment. What people fail to recognize is the true leader that he really is.

Saban understands that not everyone will like him, but this does not stop him from trying to have a positive impact on others. “Some of the great leaders in our history were not adored, but respected,” Saban said. “My advice to leaders — stop trying to please everyone and do what you believe is best.

What separates Saban from other coaches is his exemplary execution of all operations. As a firm supporter of hard work, Saban believes everyone wants to succeed, but not everyone is willing to do what it takes to achieve it.

Multiple Alabama football players were arrested in the spring semester of 2015 on charges including domestic violence, drunk driving, and drug possession. Saban then shared his thoughts on some of the bigger issues that extend off the field and into society at large.

“Many people have an illusion of choice. People that think they have a lot of choices in life are often times sadly mistaken. Whether it is refraining from breaking the law or trying to chase your dreams,” Saban said. “If you want to be good, you really don’t have a lot of choices, because it takes what it takes.”

In the 2012-13 football season — when Alabama blew out Notre Dame to capture the program’s 15th national championship — a reporter asked Saban why winning championships never gets old for him. He responded by sharing an old Martin Luther King Jr. sermon. King would only let one guy in Montgomery, Ala. shine his shoes because of the pride he had in his shoe-shining abilities.

To paraphrase, Saban emphasizes the importance of being the best at whatever you are. If you are going to be a streetsweeper, sweep the streets the same way Michelangelo painted pictures. Let them put up a sign that says “the best street sweeper lives here.” There is no better sense of self accomplishment than knowing you are the best you can be at whatever you choose to do.

The bottom line is that everything matters for Saban. Paying particular attention to detail is a major strength. There is nothing so minor or inconsequential that affects his team that is out of sight of his concern. The culture of the Alabama football program is a lot like a successful business: every person — from the janitor that works in Bryant-Denny Stadium, to the cook preparing meals for the team, to the starting quarterback — plays a role in determining success and failure. Many leaders make the mistake of overlooking the little things, but a great leader like Saban is not one of them.

Saban enters this year’s spring practices with a new challenge: nine out of his ten assistant coaching positions are being filled by new personnel. Not many in Tuscaloosa are worried about the coaching staff overhaul, though, as their faith in Saban to bring the University another national championship next year remains unwavering.

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