Nick Saban is a hard-nosed coach who expects a lot from both his players and assistant coaches, and that is the main reason many have said he is difficult to work for. If that’s what it takes to achieve greatness, the six-time national champion has no problem with that reputation.
While meeting with reporters at SEC Media Days on Wednesday, Saban was asked if all the turnover on his coaching staff is a reflection of him being tough to work for. He said he finds it ironic that people say that and then coach their own programs with a similar style to his.
“You have to ask some of the people that work for me,” he said. “Always interesting that, you know, they may say that, but then when they get a job and they go do it, they do it exactly like we did it. So, I don’t know.
Saban noted how recruiting has become a 24/7 ordeal, and he said no part of the job with being a college coach is easy. He also explained how he tries to hold members of his staff accountable and to a high standard, which sometimes means doing things they don’t want to do. He compared having assistant coaches to raising children.
“So you have to make a choice and decision: You want to do it right, or you want to make everybody happy? No different than raising your children,” he said. “I go through this with (my wife) Terry when we’re raising our kids. She wanted to make them happy, and I wanted to make them do right.”
While his leadership style may not be for everyone, there’s no denying Saban has helped countless coaches advance their careers. Even someone like Lane Kiffin — who takes swipes at Saban any chance he gets — understands how much working for the Alabama legend helped him. That’s the trade-off when you work under him.
The agent for Nick Saban expressed to Texas several years ago that his client had serious interest in coaching the Longhorns. But a furious reaction from Mack Brown scuttled the deal.
Saban’s agent Jimmy Sexton spoke with Texas in January 2013 about the possibility of Saban coming to coach the Longhorns. Saban was fresh off coaching his team to its second consecutive national championship and third in four years. He was considering a move to Texas. The Longhorns wanted to make it happen too, but they needed cooperation from Brown that they did not receive.
Former Texas regent Tom Hicks (also the former Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars owner) was a guest on a June 27 podcast by Corby Davidson of SportsRadio The Ticket in Dallas. In that interview, Hicks shared just how serious Saban seemed to be about taking the Longhorns job.
Here’s the clip:
Fascinating audio from a June 27 podcast with former Texas Regent Tom Hicks and Corby Davidson. Hicks details the Saban to Texas courtship after ‘12 season. Including a conversation w/Jimmy Sexton & Mack Brown about the potential of Saban heading to Austin. @finebaum @3ManFront pic.twitter.com/2NNPYmiVkw
— Pat Smith (@patsmithradio) July 9, 2019
“We had a call from his agent,” Hicks said, as transcribed by AL.com. “… Another regent and I had a conversation with Saban and his agent. He [Sexton] said ‘if Saban was a business guy, he’s what you’d call a turnaround artist, he’s not a long-term CEO. He’d go somewhere and fix it, win, and move on.
“He knows he’ll never catch Bear Bryant’s legacy in Alabama. But he’d like to create his legacy that he’d won more national championships at more schools than anybody else. He’s already done it at LSU, he’s already done it at Alabama. He knows he could win a national championship at Texas. He knows he can.’”
“I went to see Mack two days later, we had lunch,” Hicks said. “I thought at the time Mack was ready to leave. He’d been telling people he was ready to leave. I said ‘Mack, I want to tell you about a conversation I had with Jimmy Sexton. If you want to retire, I think you can graciously have Nick Saban come in and take your place. It would kind of be your idea. That might be a nice way for you to end it.’
“And boy, Mack Brown turned bright red, steam started coming out of his ears. He said ‘that guy’s not coming here and winning a national championship with my players.’ I said ‘Mack, I’m glad to see you have that passion. I didn’t think you had that passion left.’ That’s what started the Nick Saban story.
“I called the agent back and said ‘if this isn’t Mack’s idea [to step down], it’s not going to happen.’ I said ‘it’s not going to happen.’”
Word about Sexton’s talks with Texas actually were kept quiet for a while until a regent leaked it to the Associated Press in September 2013, leading to it becoming a story. That led to plenty of smoke later that year about Saban considering a move to Texas.
Brown resigned from his job at Texas in mid-December after going 8-5. Saban decided to remain at Alabama despite a report saying Texas was prepared to offer him $100 million to take over the program.
Texas ended up hiring Charlie Strong, who was a disaster and went 16-21 over three seasons. When Texas was considering firing Strong after his second season, rumors continued to tie Saban to the Texas job. That was in 2015.
Though Saban’s name comes up here and there for coaching jobs, he’s remained at Alabama long enough now where his denials are finally taken more seriously. But back in 2013, he did seem awfully interested in leaving for Texas.
Tua Tagovailoa was viewed for most of last season as the premier quarterback in college football, one leading an unstoppable Alabama Crimson Tide team. The sentiment surrounding him changed somewhat after he hurt his leg in a poor performance against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and then got outclassed by Trevor Lawrence in the national championship.
Nick Saban is not satisfied with the way Bama finished the season and is challenging Tua to be better this fall. The Alabama coach shared his challenge for Tua while speaking at the SEC meetings in Destin, Florida.
Saban on QBs: “Tua has to challenge himself to get back. Being hurt was an issue at end of (last) season. He has to challenge himself to get back into great shape. He should take the perception (that) he has a lot to prove – as we all do – relative to how the season ended.”
— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) May 28, 2019
Tagovailoa’s season numbers look great — 43 touchdowns and six interceptions with a 69 completion percentage and 3,966 yards — but four of the interceptions happened in two games. As great as Tagovailoa was most of the season — he was nearly flawless in most of his games — he simply did not play well enough against Georgia, Clemson, and even Mississippi State. There is plenty of room for the Heisman Trophy runner-up to improve for 2019.
Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban have had a complicated relationship over the years, but it’s fair to say that there’s some respect for the Alabama coach’s skills.
Kiffin, currently the head coach at Florida Atlantic, replied to a Twitter post Wednesday with the belief that Saban would outlast every other SEC coach — because the “GOAT” will never retire.
0. He's never retiring! #GOAT
— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) May 15, 2019
Kiffin served as Saban’s offensive coordinator for three years. For a lengthy period following his departure, Kiffin seemingly delighted in taking shots at his former boss, but seems to have been a bit warmer to him lately. This is further evidence of that — for their differing styles, Kiffin at least has some respect for Saban.
College basketball introduced a rule this season allowing players to hire an agent, go through the combine process, but still return to school if they part ways with the agent before a pre-draft deadline.
College football has a similar problem with undrafted players, but Alabama coach Nick Saban isn’t completely on board with a similar rule, noting that there would be a lot of issues to address before allowing undrafted players to return to college.
“If we’re going to have this many people go out for the draft, that’s obviously a solution that some people should look at,” Saban said, via Creg Stephenson of AL.com. “If that were the case in football, how many guys would go out for the draft? You could kiss spring practice goodbye. You wouldn’t know what kind of team … or who would be on your team for the next year. How would you know how many guys you could recruit if you don’t know how many guys are coming back to the team? I think when you have smaller numbers (as in basketball), that’s a little easier to manage.”
Saban added his concerns about how some underclassmen would be drafted, but in later rounds, jeopardizing their future potential when they may have been better served waiting a year and being selected higher.
“When you have 140-some guys going out for the draft and 49 don’t get drafted, and a significant number get drafted in the last couple of rounds from that group, which means they probably won’t be on the squad in three years, you’ve got a lot of people with failed careers and no degrees,” Saban said. “And that’s not really a combination for them and their success in the future.”
There’s no good solution here, and the fix isn’t as easy as on the basketball side for the reasons Saban notes. It doesn’t sound like anything will change anytime soon, either.
The way Alabama lost to Clemson in the national championship game earlier this year may have been shocking to most, but Nick Saban knew from early November on that an outcome like that was possible.
In a recent interview with Greg McElroy of SEC Network, Saban said the Crimson Tide were distracted after blowing No. 3-ranked LSU out 29-0 on Nov. 2, and the team lost its “humility.”
“From the LSU game on last year, I (think) we lost our humility, which can create a little complacency and a blatant disregard for doing what’s right,” Saban said.
“We had a lot of internal distractions from people in terms of, ‘Am I going out for the draft or am I taking another job?’ It was a little disappointing that we couldn’t keep it together. Obviously my responsibility is to keep everybody up to snuff in all those areas. But I think sometimes when you lose, people are much more willing to say, okay I’m going to look in the mirror now and what is the truth about what we did or didn’t do.”
Saban does everything he can to prevent his teams from becoming complacent, and that’s why he has described the media as “rat poison” for his players. He believes when college athletes constantly hear about how good they are, they start to believe it and lose their edge. Alabama was undefeated heading into the title game against Clemson last year, so it’s no surprise he believes the media hype became an issue.
At one point last year, Saban was so concerned about his players having inflated egos that he openly asked the media to talk about the team’s flaws more. He probably wishes the Tide would have lost a game sooner so he could have used it as motivation.
Nick Saban offered another hint on Saturday that he is nowhere close to slowing down.
After Alabama’s A-Day spring game, the coach noted that he was going to get his sore hip evaluated at the end of spring ahead of the new season. Why? Because in Saban’s words, he wants to coach “for a lot of more years,” and he wants to be in good shape to make it happen.
Saban: "I've been struggling a little bit with one of my hips. … We're going to do an evaluation at the end of the spring. They say even if it's worst case scenario, it may be 6-8 weeks.
"… I don't want to coach for one more year. I want to coach for a lot of more years."
— Charlie Potter (@Charlie_Potter) April 13, 2019
Saban turns 68 in October, but there is no sign that he intends to slow down anytime soon. In fact, a former assistant thinks he may have another decade in him, and Saban certainly isn’t doing anything to diminish the possibility.