Hundreds of books have been written on the subject. Countless seminars and speakers travel the speaking circuit talking to businesses, corporations and organizational associations about it.
But if someone wants to learn about leadership, they could save some money and just turn their eyes toward Tuscaloosa.
This is not an article boasting about the successes of the University of Alabama athletic program, although it could be. It’s simply a pointer to those wanting to see what real leadership looks like.
Tuscaloosa was a town devoid of leadership for many, many years. Following the death of Paul “Bear” Bryant in January 1983, the years–even decades–that followed were filled with embarrassing malfeasance, indecision, bad decisions and a struggle for power.
But today, leadership has been put on full display on Bryant Drive, and results have followed.
The most recent example of leadership in motion was the decision by Alabama head basketball coach Anthony Grant to suspend top scorers JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. Both were producers, and at times electrifying. The suspensions came in the middle of what was to be his team’s first break out season in his young three-year tenure.
Two other suspensions would follow heading into a road game at LSU, as Andrew Steele and Trevor Releford would sit. With Bama’s season on the brink, Grant elected to waive a 58 point per game average (between the four suspended starters), resulting in a loss at a tough point in the season.
But the suspensions sent a message. “Do it my way or be gone.” The result? After a brief bump in the road, the Tide, led by freshmen, are on a three-game winning streak, including a blowout victory on the road at Bud Walton Arena, beating the Hogs in their house at their own brand of basketball.
Just two days later, Bama would avenge a loss from early in the conference season, having their way with Rick Stansbury’s Mississippi State team.
Mitchell’s status has been more clearly defined, being allowed to return for his senior season next year if he wishes. But the senior JaMychal Green returned Saturday against Mississippi State, looking nothing like the selfish player he’s been accused of being (by me) in the past.
A team that many (including myself) had left for dead a couple of weeks ago now looks like a strong probability for the big dance.
Why? Because of leadership. A coach unwilling to let the inmates run the assylum put immediate results on hold, put his foot down, and those left, willing to do things the right way, responded.
What more can be said here? The man inherited a team of Tony Mitchells in 2007. After a good run going into the Tennessee game, calamity hit the team. The night before the annual clash with the Vols, word came down that five players would be suspended for the game, and beyond. Glen Coffee, Antoine Caldwell, Marlon Davis, Marquis Johnson and Chris Rogers…all starters or major contributors…were found to have improperly abused their textbook privileges.
The Tide responded by drumming the Vols 41-17 the following day, and nearly defeated heavily favored LSU the next game. A John Parker Wilson gimme fumble on his own five was the difference in a game where Bama was outmatched.
But did they ever fall.
As does happen when there is a lack of leadership, adversity took its toll on the 2007 Crimson Tide. Bama would lose a heartbreaker to Mississippi State in Starkville the next week, then in an uninspired effort would lose one of the most embarrassing games in Alabama history to Louisiana-Monroe. Saban would later say the game was one of his biggest disappointments in his coaching career.
The “speech heard around the world” in his weekly presser the following Monday would define Alabama football from that point until today. “Never Again” may have been the mantra from the 2010 Iron Bowl, but in Nick Saban’s heart after the LaMonroe game, it would define what this program would be about. Many are convinced that if Bama’s players didn’t respond after that season, he would’ve pulled another Miami Dolphins and be coaching elsewhere today.
But they did respond, in a big way.
Saban would spend the off-season leading up to 2008’s campaign flushing the negative influencers from the team, saying goodbye to dead-weight, entitled seniors, and removing cancers from the team that didn’t want to work.
The result has been a 48-6 record since 2007. He lost six games his first year, and six games collectively in the four years following. One SEC Championship and two BCS National Championships are the obvious stats for Alabama football since 2007, but it only begins to tell the tale. To beat Alabama since 2007, you either have to play the game of your life, have a hundred freaky things go your way, or the Tide has to shoot itself in the foot.
Ask Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins what it’s like to face a Nick Saban defense. Or Jordan Jefferson. Or Clint Moseley. Ask the entire Tennessee fanbase what it feels like to look across the field and see Nick Saban leading your most hated rival. Is there a more debilitating feeling?
Most telling of Saban’s leadership has been Bama’s ability to land a top five recruiting class in the years following 2007; three of those years have been tabbed as the nation’s best. Quite a feat when you consider the prima donna nature of many top athletes. The free pass to playing time many opt for has been replaced by hard work and a willingness to wait to be the best.
The difference? Leadership. There is a clear direction the Alabama football program is heading in at all times, and the best of the best want to be a part of it.
Oh, and the team Nick Saban spoke of on that January day in 2007, the team in this state he would work 365 days a year to dominate? They’re feeling the effects of that domination right now. The gap between Alabama and Auburn’s football program is wider than the margin of victory in the thumping Bama put on the fighting Chiziks last November.
Towel waiving is not leadership. Neither are limo rides and painted buses. Pandering to your fanbase is not leadership. Constantly wearing BCS garb in the off-season (a title you backed into) in plain view of your team isn’t leadership. Making excuses for why you couldn’t sign 25 players on signing day the following year isn’t leadership.
If you want to see leadership, fix your eyes on Tuscaloosa. Because right now, there is a clinic going on in T-Town. And the only thing it will cost you, if you hate Alabama, is your pride.