Saban visits MAC clinic

Published 12:01 pm Thursday, July 15, 2010

JACKSON — Introduced as the winner of two national championships, University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban tried to relay to a standing-room crowd of high school football coaches that success can be fleeting and that coaches can have the biggest impact on the lives of young people.

Saban gave the headlining address “Building A Champion” in front of nearly 900 coaches at the Mississippi Association of Coaches Clinic at the Hilton Hotel Wednesday. In January, Saban directed the Crimson Tide to the Bowl Championship Series national title with a 37-21 win over Texas at the Rose Bowl. Alabama finished 14-0 and Saban is now 139-67-1 in 15 seasons as a head coach.

But it was a loss in his first season with Alabama and its aftermath that Saban used as an illustration of how humbling things can be.

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“Here I am being introduced as winning two national championships, but I know that the love for football coaches is a conditional thing. I can remember my first year at LSU, we lost to UAB, and for those who don’t know, that’s the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Then in my first year at Alabama, we lost to ULM, the University of Louisiana at Monroe,” Saban said.

“We had issues with my first team at Alabama. There were problems. We got off to a 6-2 start and then we lost four in a row. But I have never been as low in my entire career as I was after we lost the third game out of those four. Five of our players had gotten suspended. We had six turnovers, but the truth of the matter is that we got our tails kicked by the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

“Afterwards it got worse. I go out to my car and I see that I have no gas. I’ve got to go to a station to get some more gas. So I get my gas and go pay the cashier. He notices my ring. ‘What’s that ring for?’

“I say it’s my national championship ring that I won at LSU. And in three years, we’re going to win one here at Alabama.”

The cashier then laughs and says “‘not if Nick Saban is our coach.’”

From that point, Saban talked about how he built the Crimson Tide back into champions.

“There are four components. The first is you must engage the players. All players are self-absorbed. What we try to do is work on their mental conditioning and personal development. I’m sure you’ve heard of Rolando McClain. Well in his freshman year, he was walking by a fraternity house and a guy yelled an obscenity at him. Rolando went over and shook the guy. I told him that’s not what I would have done. He said ‘Coach, I had to defend myself.’ So then I took another approach and said, Rolando, you like everyone else here wants to play in the NFL.

“Is it worth it to be right if it costs you big time in the end? You can be a top 15 pick in the NFL draft and make $40 million dollars, but if you pick up a felony assault charge, you get knocked down three rounds and are now looking at 2 million at best,” Saban said.

McClain got the point and was the Tide’s leader on defense. In April he was picked eighth overall in the NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders.

The second component for Saban is to be inspiring.

“A lot of times as coaches we make the mistake labeling kids with ability who don’t always show it as being lazy. But part of the human condition is for us to be able to survive and in order to survive, we have to be average. What we try to do is inspire enough kids to be great. Just because a kid can’t do a certain drill the way you want, doesn’t mean you give up. As an NFL assistant with the Cleveland Browns, I had Emerson Walls, a pretty good corner. But he couldn’t back pedal. Now Art Modell had just given Walls a $2 million contract. He was going to start, so I had to adjust to the situation and that’s okay, because you learn to do what makes them the best.”

The third component Saban said was influence.

“I have always tell my daughter Kristen that it is more important who you are than what you do. We try to influence our guys through their thoughts, habits and priorities. Either way, you are going to experience pain. It can either be the pain of discipline or the pain of disappointment.”

The fourth criteria is impact.

“No other person had a greater impact on my life than my high school coach in West Virginia. That is why I feel a special bond with high school coaches and wanted to be here today. I never lose sight of the importance of being able to teach and make athletes competitive,” Saban said.

Saban’s speech had a clear resonance with the assembled coaches.

“Coach Saban is a great motivator. I was really glad he spoke about our role in developing kids. It was something heartfelt and something we can all relate too,” said Port Gibson coach Lynn Lang.