Great Assistants? Not Until They Worked For Saban

Commentary by Intheknow72
There has long been the saying that good assistants make a head coach great. But I would argue the reverse is also true. Sometimes a stellar leader makes those who work around him better…or sometimes at least seem so. The steady flow of assistant coaches under Coach Bryant who were given opportunity after opportunity to coach elsewhere at one time seemed endless. That’s why chaos ensued when it came time to replace him, because so many were successful head coaches at other posts. A good leader invests himself in those who work for him, realizing that he can accomplish much more if he transplants his own drive and heart into them.

Now, I don’t know what the reasoning is behind Kevin Steele and Lance Thompson leaving, and neither do you. But one thing isn’t up for debate: they benefited from the success of their leader. When Saban came to Tuscaloosa now two wonderful years ago, I remember the outcry–that he couldn’t hire any “name” assistants to come with him. It was the old “here we go again” routine, critics harkening back to the infamous story about the LSU plane returning empty from Michigan State. If coaches have stars (which we all know don’t matter…wait, now they do…which one is it?), Saban’s first staff at Alabama was filled with three star coaches. His biggest “name” coach joining him was Major Applewhite. Now two years later, Steele and Thompson are benefiting from the association with their boss.

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As Clemson curled itself into fetal position as the final seconds ticked down last August, the eyes of those left in the Georgia Dome (which weren’t many) rested squarely on the coaching staff at Alabama. The following Monday the famous call from Clemson to Tuscaloosa validates this fact. “How did you do that to us?” And when Swinney needed a jolt for his new coaching staff, a big, feel good hire for their supporters was getting “the guy” who shut them down. Only, all Steele did was play the part of Saban’s ventriloquist dummy. Nick Saban plays the role of Jeff Dunham. Kevin Steele plays the role of “Peanut.”

And likewise, as Tennessee took their second successive flogging at the hands of Alabama this year, it was obvious to everyone missing teeth and wearing overalls in the Volunteer state (which is about all of them) that talent was the biggest deficit on the FulmerTitanic. Alabama still has some ground to cover, but Tennessee’s team more resembles Middle Tennessee’s. So what do you do? Go after “the one responsible” for the number one recruiting class in the nation last year. Now, between Saban and Thompson, we all know who stopped traffic when he pulled into a recruit’s hometown. But again, perception is reality, and with a fattened salary, Mrs. Thompson is very happy tonight.

But inflating assistants by association is nothing new to the Nicktator. Saban did the same at LSU. All he did was turn Jimbo Fisher into Jimbo Fisher. Coach Fisher was already a good coach, but association with Saban made him “seem” great, landing him the future spot at FSU (if Bowden ever dies). Oh the outcry when Fisher didn’t come to Tuscaloosa. Now we know why; he had elevated himself to a point where just another coordinator position wasn’t going to do. He wanted the big prize, and standing on the shoulders of those who made him great–along with his long-time association with the Bowden family, dating back to coaching with Terry at Samford–he landed the big fish as the future top man at FSU. That deal was done before Saban ever called. Same story for Will Muschamp. Literally.

But coaching with Nick Saban I suppose is like going to coaching boot camp. Ask anybody in uniform and they’ll tell you that nobody likes boot camp, but it makes you better. It makes you tougher. It cuts away the fat (both figuratively and literally). And in the end, your stock as a human being rises dramatically. In Saban’s camp, he is in charge and that’s that. You don’t get to talk on the radio. You don’t get a say. You do what you’re told and in a couple of years, you’re winner and everybody wants you to come share the secret on their staff.

We all remember Tony Franklin’s witty remarks about wanting to coach at a place where he had freedom. Well, now he has plenty to go around. Why? Because he joined a complacent leader leading a staff full of BBQ boys. Fat. Lazy. Happy. Content. Blinded. Ignorant. And now unemployed. THEIR leader has happy with 8-4 and brandishing fingers for beating a crippled rival. Steele’s and Thompson’s leader will never be at that point and still be coaching. He’ll retire to Lake Burton permanently before beating a rival becomes the objective and reason for his program’s existence.

Tennessee has been in a steady downward spiral since George W.’s first inauguration. Clemson has been a punchline since well before that. For programs that suck–and those two do–the oldest play in the book is to try and nab coaches from a successful staff. And the perception nationwide, despite the bowl game, is that Alabama’s football program is among the healthiest and most successful in the nation. While the Vols and the ACC’s version of Auburn have gotten themselves two good coaches, association with Nick Saban is what made them “seem” great–and worthy of hire.

But don’t worry Tide fans; Saban is in search of 2011’s new hires for another program as we speak.