Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Studies In Leadership: Nick Saban

Posted by admin February - 24 - 2021 - Wednesday

Everybody wants to “be like Nick!” But not everybody has the “Jimmy’s and the Joe’s” like Nick has! Talent does make a difference! How you utilize that talent, however, is where Saban has found the secret to success. A lot of people have attempted to duplicate The Process; most have failed. Think of the Saban assistants who’ve gone on to head jobs at other colleges. The only one I can think of who’s been consistently successful is Kirby Smart at Georgia.

I want to share what I’ve found to be some keys to Saban’s effective leadership. Leadership which has led to multiple national championships over the past decade. Always remember, though, it IS Alabama. As someone said, “Bama doesn’t recruit, they request!” Build a better mouse trap and people will flock to your store.

1- Nick Saban emphasizes integrity. He states that it is critical to tell the truth. As the Bible says, “tell the truth in love.” The truth may hurt sometimes but it also has the potential to set you free. How you react to the truth will go a long way in determining if you’re going to grow from the experience. Saban does care about his reputation. He does not lie to his players to win a recruit.

2- Saban has been smart enough to realize that a coach needs to see his own weaknesses and… adapt or even change. Think of the radical change in Bama’s offense when Saban hired Kiffin a few years ago. From the plodding, smash-mouth Power I attack to a wide open spread up-tempo approach to things. Saban was pushing to stop offenses from going up tempo. Now he is one of the biggest advocates for up tempo!

3- Utilization of personnel is a key component of success. Two things here: first, Saban has no problem playing true freshmen on special teams. They get a chance to contribute and compete early on. Those freshmen get rewarded for “being patient” while they wait their turn to start. Second, Saban rotates his star players. (Think Tailback depth at Bama!) He makes it clear that “it’s not how much you play; it’s all about what you do with each opportunity to contribute.” It keeps guys fresh and gives more players a chance to get on the field in meaningful situations. It also builds depth. Did you know that Bama’s All American Left Offensive Tackle, Alex Leatherwood, had to come in and start the second half of the National Championship game that Tua threw the last second TD pass? Leatherwood was a true freshman at the time. He stepped in and he stepped up!

4- Finally, Saban is the Master Recruiter. He knows how to sell his program. Have you ever thought about why the #1 Tailback in the country would want to sign with Alabama when they already have 2 “star” running backs on the team? Why wouldn’t that guy go where he knows he can start right away? Why go to Bama? I think it’s because Saban only recruits those players who are super competitive and he is great at “selling a vision” to those select few high school recruits who possess the right amount of self-confidence that they actually want to compete. Saban can always say, “Come to Alabama, young man, and you will be competing for a National championship every year you are at our school.”

It seems that Saban has to rebuild his coaching staff every year. His coaches get hired away by other schools in hopes that a little of the “Saban magic” will rub off on the new program. Yet, he continues to win. It’s hard enough getting to the top. Staying there is just as difficult. A coach still has to deal with psychological and social issues that can cause a winning program to implode. Saban never wavers. He knows what produces success and he will not change his philosophy… nor should he. It seems to work prettttttttty well, doesn’t it??!!

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