Nick Saban: Social Worker

What is the purpose of a football coach? To win games?

Nick Saban believes his chief task is to help players.

“You know, philosophically, we are there to help players,” Saban said. “You know, we’re gonna take every player and try to get him to reach his full potential. And everybody has a responsibility and an obligation for their own self-determination, but we’re there to support and help those players to do that. That’s our philosophy.”

The philosophy yields good and bad results. It really depends on the player’s personal choices. All the coaching staff can do is try to equip the players to make the right decisions. When they don’t make the right decisions, it makes the papers. And when those bad decisions are made, Saban said there must be consequences. But, that doesn’t mean you preemptively kick players off the team.

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“I’m not gonna clean house and get rid of everybody just because they might be a problem. Now, when players don’t do the right things and make poor judgments, then they cannot be a part of the program,” Saban said. “But it’s our philosophy to support players, to help them be successful. One of the reasons that I enjoy college coaching and want to be in college coaching and am here is to help players do that.”

That rewarding part, where players do the right thing, was trumpted by Saban. He said 25 or 30 guys are doing the right thing academically, personally and athletically. He once again said these players don’t receive the attention of the poorly behaved players.

And that lack of positive attention is the media’s fault, according to Saban.

There are no plans to change the Alabama discipline system or program. In fact, Saban said he is confident he and his staff are doing the right things.

“I feel very good about who we are, what we’ve done, what we’re gonna continue to try to do, so that we don’t fail players and they make bad decisions and bad choices about what they do and how those consequences impact their ability to be successful in the future,” Saban said.

And what are the things being done? Many things, but one in particular Saban likes to talk about. The Tide coach has brought in the Pacific Institute to help players with character development. The Pacific Institute taught 12 classes on mental conditioning, self-actualization, self-confidence and self-esteem.

Saban spends time thinking about these issues because he spent time in graduate school studying sports psychology. Shaping Saban’s sports management philosophy are books by Michael Johnson (Slaying the Dragon), Rick Pitino and Pat Riley.

This reading list helps Saban with motivation. Something he considers an important element, especially in today’s world where athletes are different than previous generations.

“I think through the years players have changed dramatically and there’s a lot of different personalities that play now,” Saban said. “I think your ability to motivate, reach, affect, however you want to say it, these different personalities, but not let their personalities be divisive to the team chemistry, is a key to being successful…

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“I think through the year players have changed dramatically and there’s a lot of different personalities that play now. I think your ability to motivate, reach, affect, however you want to say it, these different personalities, but not let their personalities be divisive to the team chemistry, is a key to being successful.”

So how have things changed? Society is radically different.

“My kids just flatout tell me. I mean I didn’t have the guts to tell my dad,” Saban said. “You know, when I sit and look at my kids and I say, When I was your age, I worked for everything I had. And they just look at me and say, Well, I don’t know anybody that does that anymore, Dad. Like you came from outer space.

“It’s an instant coffee, instant tea, instant self-gratification (world). Everything is on the Internet. Everything is a picture. Everything is fast. Everything is quick. There’s not the same long term commitment to something and sticking with it and learning from your mistakes. Very few of the things that our young people do now, do they get consequences for? You know, we played checkers when we were growing up. And when you moved the wrong guy, you lost your guy, you got immediate positive or negative self-gratification for it and you learn from that.

“You know, my kids push the restart button. They don’t even know if they got blowed up. I mean so it’s different. It’s all different.”

Because things are different doesn’t mean things are hopeless. Kids still want to succeed.

“I think that at the end of the day they all want to be good,” Saban said. “They all want to reach their full potential. And they all have a willingness that if you can help ’em do that, they have a respect for you, and they’ll give you everything they got to do it. That’s been my experience.”

You can’t escape the new-ageness of this whole Saban philosophy. But one thing you must admit, Saban is complex and interesting.