A review of the Saban movie

Took the Mrs. to see the late showing of Nick Saban: Gamechanger last night. First off, haven’t been to a midnight movie in a long time…really felt like a rebel leaving the theater at 2:oo am.

Simply put, the film was telling, to say the least.  It was worth every penny (and sleep deprivation) to get to peek behind the curtain to see where Alabama head football coach Nick Saban has come from and what makes him tick.  The movie goes beyond anything you’ve seen from the ESPN all-access shows or the other features on him, giving a realistic impression of what it’s like to be in his shoes, what it’s like to work with him, and what it’s like to play for him.

Through a stream of interviews with notables like Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, Bobby Bowden, Jimmy Sexton, Jimbo Fisher and many more, you leave the theater without a doubt knowing that whatever Nick Saban set out to do, he would be the best at it.  It just so happens that his craft is football, and man aren’t we glad it is.

Here were my takeaways from the movie:

It is no wonder why so many Alabama coaches have failed
…or bolted under the pressure.  As head coach at Bama, you’re always “on”.  It was unreal how many gatherings and engagements Saban appeared in throughout the course of the movie, and that was just within the small window of his life we see while the film was produced.  You’re constantly watched, constantly revered, constantly tugged at and constantly analyzed.  Every word is dissected, every action discussed, and every move you make moves people to sit up and take notice.

It is impossible to live up to the expectations.  So it takes a special man to step into that role, someone who doesn’t care about expectations, and has the moxie to go about his business with it all in perspective.  The impression the movie clearly paints is that Nick Saban is that man, and doesn’t give a pile of dog excrement about any expectations anyone has for him.  He’s short in stature, yet stands about nine feet tall in the face of the external elements that made other coaches before him crumble.

It’s disturbing how close Bama football came to staying mediocre
Mal Moore deserves a statue of his own somewhere on campus.  Through the words of Jimmy Sexton, Moore, Paul Finebaum and others, Moore basically did his best impression of a bankrupt man betting his last $100 at a Vegas craps table, in turn bringing home the house.

People, the Alabama job was that bad.  Nobody wanted the pressure and expectations mentioned above, let alone the peripheral factors that come with the job when things aren’t at their worst.  In the movie you get a perspective on Mal Moore like no other as a man in love with his university, willing to sacrifice all logic, maybe even a little dignity, to pursue a pipe dream that amazingly came true.  It was the equivalent of a pimple-faced high school freshman asking  Miss America to the prom…forget the homecoming queen.  And it worked.

Nick Saban is the most focused, driven man on the planet
The movie takes you back to his upbringing in Carolina, West Virginia, where childhood friends share about the influence of his father on his life, and the lives of other kids in the community.  Without near the payoff his son would one day enjoy, Nick Saban, Sr. instilled something in his boy that would carry him throughout the course of his life.

You meet some people in life who seem to have more hours in the day than you do.  The truth is, we all have the same amount of time, some just are able to get the most out of every minute they’re here.  Watching him go about his business, there isn’t a single minute that’s wasted.  Every one of them have a purpose as he leads his staff, leads his team, and leads the constituents and supporters of the Alabama football program, and nothing…and I do mean nothing…is left to chance.

It takes a special person to work for Nick Saban
Several coaches are interviewed in the film, and the impression you come away with is that the ones with him now are the ones that appreciate…even thrive on…being pushed.  One of my favorite quotes in the film, from Saban:

“It’s human nature to be average, to just get by.  So when you do something, anything, with excellence, you’ve really accomplished something.”

You get the feeling that his staff enjoys the synergy of being together right now, though they won’t always be together.  But a leader makes them better.  If you remember, when the staff was assembled four years ago, there really wasn’t a wow factor associated with them.  The buzz wasn’t over the staff, it was over their leader.  And a great leader can make a staff be better.  A good staff can make bad leader “look” better.  But there is a distinct difference.

In the film Jim McElwein alludes to the pace Saban keeps them on, saying basically they don’t realize it right now, but in 10-15 years they’ll look back and say, “what a ride that was.”  Some coaches want to work hard, others don’t.  The staff at Alabama right now enjoys working hard for a leader that drives them to be the best they can be.

Saban is home
One of the biggest impressions you come away with is this: Nick Saban loves college football.  To say he prefers college to the NFL is like saying a fish prefers being in the water over being on the bank.  The man loves recruiting, but more than X’s and O’s, he just enjoys impacting the lives of student athletes.  The film offers the unique perspective that investing himself in the lives of young men, making them better, giving them a chance to make it in life and do well, is the fuel that gives him a reason for living.

“In the NFL, if you need a quarterback, you go out and buy one,” he says.  “In college it’s more than that.”

He enjoys the details of recruiting that drives other coaches to go duck hunting.  He loves the hours of watching film on potential players and evaluations that others in his profession may see as a necessary evil, not a passion.  He loves the challenge of finding the right players with the right attitude and character to fit his program.  And he loves the opportunity to make them better while they’re with him.

Closer to home, according to Jimbo Fisher, Saban is where he will be until he retires.  He has the perfect set up in Tuscaloosa, the perfect supporting cast, the perfect machine in place to do what he has never done: Dominate in the long term, reaping the rewards of the foundation he has laid.  This is the last frontier for him, and he appears poised to take it.

Even if you’re not an Alabama fan you’ll enjoy this film
Nick Saban makes everyone around him better, even those he competes against.  His very presence has raised and continues to raise the bar to a level this league, maybe even college football, hasn’t seen since Paul Bryant.

Auburn didn’t fire it’s third winningest head coach in history…only behind Pat Dye because Tuberville had two less years…because of one lousy season.  Tennessee didn’t fire orange icon fat Phil just because.  Urban Meyer didn’t quit after last year’s SEC Championship loss (though he did return) over the same heart condition (a heart murmur) that my 70 year old mother has manged for 25 years.

Nick Saban’s presence has raised the bar, and lazy recruiting, competing and business as usual in this league…at least until he’s gone…is over. And even if you hate the Crimson Tide and question the moves your program has made to keep up, even as bizarre as some have been, you have to appreciate the pace setter that he is, because he has inadvertently made the program you love better as well.

The qualities in him that the film exposes leads you to want to better in whatever you do.  To go about your days with excellence, doing what you do in the right way so as to achieve the rewards that naturally come with those actions later.

Because of my schedule, the late showing was the only one I could make.  Just being honest, the older I get, the harder it is for me to stay up…kids do that to you.  But as I left the theater in the wee hours Saturday morning, not only was I awake, I was trying to decide which brick wall to run through.  The movie is that good, and though it will be offered on DVD by Christmas, whatever you have to do to see it on the big screen, do it.  You’ll thank me.