Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

The G.O.A.T. Has Retired

Posted by admin January - 11 - 2024 - Thursday

It came as a shock to me (as it did to many folks) last night when one of my “die-hard Bama” friends texted me (in shock!) to say that Nick Saban was retiring! Wow! The Bama haters immediately lined up at the door to take one more shot at, undoubtedly, the greatest college football coach in the history of the game. I mean his record earned him that title… right? All of the national championships. All of the 1st round NFL draft choices. All of the Coach of the Year awards. All of it because his won/loss record and the number of championships were the keys to being called The G.O.A.T. I say: “NO!” In my mind, those are not the reasons that Nick Saban should be considered the greatest college football coach of all time. Let me point out a few things that those of you who are coaches reading this should 1- keep in mind about Saban and his success and 2- how you can emulate him… and possibly experience some of the same level of success at your level that he did at his.

First, I want to explore another phase of Saban’s coaching career that I think will shed some light on why he was so successful at the collegiate level. Like several other successful college coaches, Saban decided to take the plunge in 2005 and signed on to coach the Miami Dolphins in the NFL. Saban learned very quickly that the NFL was not suited for his style, and philosophy, of coaching. Why? He was not in control of the roster for one thing. More importantly, these were grown men he was working with every day. Saban is a “molder of men.” These NFL players’ character was set. They weren’t there to learn how to become better men. There were there to earn a paycheck. Saban was a duck out of water.

In Saban’s first year as Alabama’s head coach, the Crimson Tide went 7-6…. with a couple of embarrassing losses. His overall record at Bama was an insane 206-29… a winning percentage of .877! How did he turn things around so fast? Have you heard of “The Process”? It is, in my opinion, the one key factor that sets Nick Saban above and beyond the rest. There’s only one other college coach that I can think of who comes close to be at the pinnacle of the game like Saban… and that is John Wooden of UCLA basketball fame. In many ways, Saban and Wooden’s philosophy of coaching were very similar. It’s teaching (and expecting) certain traits and behaviors that build character that translate onto the playing field. Let me give you a couple of examples:

1- A coach shared with me once that he was “afraid to discipline his players” for fear that they would quit if he got “tough” with them. His program was a mess.

2- There was a team in our area that had a lot of great athletes and won a lot of games but few of their players made it on to college and more than one got arrested and spent time in prison.

3- A coach who took a program that hadn’t had a winning season in 10 years and within 2 seasons had them competing for district, regional and state championships. At one point in his career, they won 14 straight district championships. Why? How? Because that coach had expectations and demanded that his players work to meet those expectations! Like what? Going to class. Being respectful to teachers and administration. Being in the weight room in the off season. Working hard in practice. Sounds like every high school programs objectives, right? The difference was: he “sold” the kids on his philosophy. He was committed to keeping the bar high; but, at the same time, loving and respecting his players. You can coach in fear OR… you can coach in love! And “love” does not mean being soft with your players.

I’ve seen video clips of Saban talking to his team. It’s a no nonsense attitude. He states clearly what his expectation is… and then he adheres to it. THAT, perhaps, is the key. Because “sticking to your guns” in the face of adversity may be one of the toughest things we have to do as coaches. We get bogged down in the minutia and forget that our prime purpose in coaching young men is to help them become hard-working, responsible grown men.

Know what your expectations are. Share them with your team. Let them know that this is the level that they are expected to achieve. That you are there to help them achieve them. Then encourage; teach; exhort; “preach” and love them till they see that you really care about them as people and not just a football player. Saban was a master at it. It related directly to the success his teams experienced on the field year after year. It can impact your teams’ success too.

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