Alabama head coach Nick Saban is everything that’s right with college football.
Still the greatest living coach in the college game, Alabama’s head man continues to amaze, exemplifying what the game should be about. It’s the success story you’ve heard many times over by now, of the boy from the West Virginia working class family made good. Having lost his father Nick Saban, Sr. at a young age (when the senior Saban was just 46), Alabama’s head coach has not only outlived his dad, but he has lived out the lessons taught to him.
Often called “Nick Satan” by those who would never admit they fear him, Coach Saban demonstrates time and again that he is anyting but evil. The relentless competitor on the football field is equally as relentless at sharing what he’s been blessed with with others. And while the Roman Catholic may not get on the microphone and give thanks “to the good Lord” for all to hear (then live out something else), Coach Saban’s sermon comes through what he does.
Yesterday news and pictures broke of Coach Saban leading a number of his players in visiting a New Orleans Children’s hospital. It’s there he met 12-year-old Gabrielle Nave, a brave young girl battling a foe much more difficult to solve than a spread offense. Entering the room, the girl had her creature comforts around her, as Children’s Hospital is so good at facilitating for these kids. Among those comforts for Gabrielle? Nail polish, and lots of it, as if Gabrielle makes it through her fight, working or maybe even owning a salon of her own will be in her future.
So what did Coach Saban do? Asked for her to practice on him. Not agree to her request. He made the request himself. Big difference.
Her parents were in the room. Even if she didn’t know who this man was standing before her, they certainly did. The buzz on the hall of who was there had to have reached them before he ever walked in the room. Did they prep her on what to say or do? Who knows. But you can guess they never expected the man who could literally coach anywhere he wanted to ask their daughter to give him a clear coat.
Why did he do this? Because his nails needed some tending to? You already know that answer. The man who founded Nick’s Kids, using his wealth and fame for ripple-effect impact, and the man who has personally seen to it that homes have been built in the Tuscaloosa area for victims of the April 27th tornado simply wanted to give back, again. And these are the stories that make headlines. There are many more heard and told that never do.
Pumping gas in that little West Virginia town all those years apparently pumped something into himself. Humility. I’ve heard Saban called everything in the book, and I had a few words for him myself after Bama’s final game of the 2013 regular season. But if I had a son choosing where to play, who had the choice of playing for this man or anyone else, I can’t imagine an easier decision.
You want leadership? There isn’t a better leader in the game.
You want compassion? Stories like Gabrielle’s aren’t anomolies when Terry & Nick Saban are involved.
You want competitiveness? When Alabama finally loses it is a national holiday for Bama haters, because like all holidays it only comes once a year.
You want preparation? His Tide still boasts one of the highest graduation rates in the country so that winners are produced on and off the field.
You want sportsmanship? Remember when he chastised the fan at the SEC Media Days for wearing an “I Hate Auburn” shirt? Fans of both schools could take a lesson from that sermon.
You want humility? How many coaches can you picture doing this? I mean coaches whose every moves are tracked like doppler radar tracking Santa Clause on Christmas Eve.
As a fan, as a father, and as a man who wonders what he would do if God graced him with the kind of fame, fortune and opportunity Nick Saban has earned, inherited or worked his way into, I can’t imagine a better ambassador for what’s right with college football than Nicholas Saban, Jr.
Because Monday he didn’t just let a struggling cancer patient practice her craft on him. He showed us once again that the game played off the field is much bigger than the game that takes place on it.