Nick Saban’s Bama Boys Coming For You
The New York Yankees put fear into their opponents. Chicago Bulls of the 1990’s did the same. There is a certain aura about dominant teams in sports, as there is in business. Microsoft and Nike are such powerful entities that they have become ingrained in American culture as the sole provider of a product — which of course they aren’t. Dominating organizations often win the battle before it begins, merely just by showing up… There is a psychological advantage.
I’ve coached and played on dominant teams and I’ve been the recipient of beatings from dominant teams.
Mike Tyson was dominant in boxing. Nobody wanted to get in the ring with him. Tiger Woods dominated the PGA Tour for a period of two years, and the other tour players just seemed to accept it…
— How Good Do You Want To Be by Nick Saban.
When the University of Washington entered the Georgia Dome last December, the Huskies entered Alabama’s home away from home. The house that Deion Sanders and Mike Vick once made famous, by doing this and doing this, and the same place that once made Tim Tebow cry after a tough, spirited contest in the 2009 SEC Championship Game, sent only one message to the Huskies. This was an SEC football game, not a Pac-12 one. Those Florida teams were vaunted as any in modern time, once featuring Percy Harvin and both of the Pouncey brothers but not enough to survive Alabama. Notre Dame and their sparkling golden helmets, lead by ever talented Everett Golson, Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, Manti Te’o, got demolished by 14–42 in their BCS National Title game against the Tide. So tall order for the Huskies, who scored a touchdown in the first quarter, only to be shut out for the next three quarters. It speaks to Alabama’s defense, more than Washington’s offense — an offense that beat up most of the Pac-12, with conviction, last season. But Nick Saban continues to dominate collegiate athletics in ways unseen since John Wooden. So what is the man’s secret to Alabama’s success?
Champions don’t belong on the ground. Nick Saban tells his players to never lie on the ground, unless they’re seriously hurt, because it sends a bad tone. It sends the wrong message to the other team, seeing one of our players in the crimson on the ground. How Good Do You Want To Be has Saban channeling Muhammad Ali, who once was quoted saying champions don’t belong on the ground. It showed your opponent that you can be knocked down, weakened. As conferences like the Pac-12 recruit for speed, Nick Saban uses different terms to describe Alabama football. Competitive spirit, relentlessness, physical play, and toughness. The emphasis on physical play and toughness. Reuben Foster knows something about that. During Nick Saban and LSU’s 2003 title run, from which the majority of the book takes place, Saban talks about a game against the University of Arizona. The Crimson Tide had a mild cross-country trip to Tuscon, but dismantled the Wildcats to the tune of 38–0 by halftime. The Crimson Tide finished it 59–13. On the contrary, Saban talks about his time at Michigan State, as the Spartans hosted Nebraska in 1995. You didn’t mess with Nebraska in the 90’s, they steamrolled Michigan State 50–10 in East Lansing. Saban never forgot that one.
When you watch football coaches, they don’t seem happy. Angry. Agitated. Annoyed. But rarely happy. The goal for any collegiate program is to provide the best future for student athletes, majority of whom will never make a buck in the NFL. But occasionally, you’ll see Saban crack. When Seattle Seahawks selected Alabama offensive lineman James Carpenter out of nowhere, Saban let out a little “Huh James Carpenter huh?”, as Carpenter surpassed other big name stars on Alabama. But that’s about as non-angry an emotion you’ll get out of Saban, who visualizes parts of George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, Napoleon, Martin Luther King Jr, General George Patton, and Gandhi as the leader to emulate. That’s a whole lot of war. Conquering. But also some love. It’s hard enough to make ten people happy, says Saban. Let alone the officials of Universities, the boosters, the media, the fans, and most of all the players. Turbulent seasons can have assistant coaches fighting, players wanting more playing time, and boosters wanting more leeway with the team. Though it seems obvious, Saban doesn’t care about being liked. It’s not the leaders job. The same goes for parenting. You’ll make unpopular decisions, that the kids will relent about, but you know what’s best. For Alabama, that means putting players on suspension for bad academics. Players regulate each other on their grades, school performance, and when someone falls off, they hear about it.
When Nick Saban served under Bill Belichick and the Cleveland Browns in 93, the Browns had a disastrous season. Though they started 5–2, after the bye week Belichick and owner Art Modell decided to break the team apart. The starting quarterback was Bernie Kosar, a fan favorite, but was traded away to give young Vinny Testaverde a shot. Two other stalwart players on defense, were also traded away. The locker room turned into mutiny, with the media and fans slamming the team non-stop. Worst case scenario. The players were close-knit, and trading them away destroyed locker room chemistry. Saban says that season, the team lost focus. Which is another Alabama principle. Focus. Sounds simple, but the amount of focus needed in sports still blows away Saban, says the book. How focused do you have to be, to hit a 90 mph fastball with a bat? How focused did Tiger Woods have to be, to putt with thousands of people watching him, with the pure silence of the golf course? As for the Browns season, that year was lost. But the next season, Cleveland bounced back as the number one defense in the league. It’s how fluid teams can be from one season to the next.
The same for business. Microsoft was once the most dominant competitor in its industry. The government’s monopoly case broke the company apart, just like free agency or departing upperclassmen can break championship teams. The Bells, the company who simply decided one day to make phone numbers seven digits, simply creating it into existence, suffered a similar fate. Today we know the company as AT&T. John D. Rockefeller, also suffered the hammer of anti-trust laws. At one point, Rockefeller was worth 2.5 percent U.S.economy, which made him twice as rich as Bill Gates, once the richest man on Forbes. Standard Oil Company was broken into six smaller entities. Today, you’ll know them as Arco, Chevron, Mobil, etc. In sports and business, competition never stops. Every organization shaves itself away from yesterday, and rebuilds once more for the coming onslaught. Thus one of the great quotes ever invented: SUCCESS IS NEVER FINAL, FAILURE IS NEVER FATAL.
So how good do you want to be?
Ralph Waldo Emerson said “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” Who you are and how you lead touches everyone. Biggest difference between being an assistant coach and being a head coach is the amount of responsibility you have to accept.
Part of being dominant is believing that you are.
The truly dominating teams not only believe they are going to win every time they step onto the field, but also believe they are going to crush their opponents. In the competitive world of twenty-first century business, ruthlessness is encouraged. Develop an attitude that you can simply not be beaten.
One cannot accept anything less.
— How Good Do You Want To Be by Nick Saban.