Coach Nick Saban just won another NCAA Football Championship and may soon be regarded as the greatest college football coach of all-time. He‘s now won four championships at the University of Alabama and one at Louisiana State University. That’s a pretty big deal!
Many individuals will argue that Nick Saban has refined “his process” over the years and has a consistent, sure-fire formula for success – largely because of his process. After all, he often stresses “the process” when asked about success. Still others would suggest he has the best players in the country. That’s more difficult to argue.
I would strongly contend against the point regarding “process.” And I have first-hand knowledge about why Coach Saban just might be considered a players’ coach.
I was a back-up player at West Virginal University (WVU) when Coach Saban was a 28-year-old assistant, fresh out of Kent State. Although Coach Saban wasn’t my position coach, and I didn’t play as much as I hoped to, Coach Saban always showed respect toward me. Among other things, he always spoke to me by name and that still resonates.
During his time at WVU, many recognized that Saban might be special. He was a perfectionist and grinder. Two of my closest teammates and friends, Jerry Holmes and Fulton Walker were coached by Saban at WVU. As defensive backs, Jerry and Fulton knew what Saban expected, and he offered little compromise. Saban helped each of them to have very productive years in the National Football League.
But here’s the twist – many believe that Nick Saban is not a players’ coach. They believe he’s all about “his process.” Jerry and Fulton would suggest otherwise.
I don’t believe any coach or leader can have much success, at any level, if they don’t connect with their people. But I needed some validation regarding Coach Saban as a players’ coach.
About two weeks ago, I called Jerry and Fulton to inquire about the “players’ side” of Nick Saban. Each of them fully agreed and clearly felt that Coach Saban connects with his players. Going back to WVU, Jerry and Fulton said their coach would often ask about family, grades, and other personal interests. He had them in his home as guests, for food, conversation, and get-away time from football. Finally, Jerry said in an all too familiar way, “Oh yeah, he knows how to connect and he really cares too.”
In safety, our processes are critically important and we can’t function at a high level without them. However, I’ll continue to argue that relationships – the connections made with your people are at least as important, or more important than any safety process you will ever embrace.
The next time you watch Nick Saban talk about the process – don’t believe everything you see and hear. And don't be fooled by his public persona. At least not completely. Nick Saban knows how to connect and he cares about his players. Coach Saban is a largely a great teacher, who builds trust, which in turn creates great outcomes. But in the end, it really is all about his people