Peeling Back One Layer of Nick Saban
By: Larry Burton
There are many layers of Nick Saban, many will never fully be understood and many he’ll never allow us to see, but one that needs to be peeled back and examined is something that makes Nick Saban a little different than most coaches. That layer to be discussed today is his reluctance to be swayed by what may be best for the program long term and simply concentrate on the here and now.
Most coaches are job scared and plan on preserving their job for the long term. They know that their fan base and bosses may forgive a down season here and there as long as the program is trending upward for the future. Not Nick Saban.
I don’t think he’s ever been “job scared” and his insurance policy of building for the future are the phenominal recruiting classes he brings in year after year. He also believes in building their minds and bodies for the future. He involves many of them in special teams before they’re ready for starting jobs and rotates players in and out as frequently as any coach.
But there’s some things he simply won’t do.
And this article will deal with the fact that Saban is not just generally focused, but laser focused on playing the player that is best at that exact moment, not building for the future by playing someone with a higher upside, a higher raw talent, or someone who just needs experience to pass another guy on the depth chart. That he just won’t do.
Saban has one simple rule he doesn’t comprimise on, if you’ve followed the process, (involving both classwork and practice work and kept your nose clean) and you’ve proven yourself to be the best on the practice field, then you will start. The best start period. Not the best long term prospect, not the biggest, fastest and most athletic, but the best guy who gives him the best shot to win the next game, not the most games down the road, but again, the guy who has proven himself to put the team in the best position to win the game this week.
Saban’s eye on the future is only as far as very next game, if you don’t believe that, then you don’t know Nick.
This is a rule that challenges every player at every position in every practice. This “show me what you got” approach rewards the players who give it their all and show not only their athletic skill, but how much they’ve absorbed in their experience as to how that and their knowledge put the team in the best possible position to win the next game.
Eddie Lacy once told me in an interview that it didn’t matter if you broke four 90 yard runs for touchdowns in practice if you didn’t show you could protect the quarterback on a pass play or missed a blocking assignment. That could create a turnover and change the whole momentum of the game. He said coach will instead start the guy who moves the chains little by little, but never misses a block, knows what he’s supposes to do on every play when he doesn’t touch the ball and puts the team in the best position to play mistake free ball.
So yes, last year some wondered why he put another rookie starting quarterback in the job who would be a “one and done” player over a guy like Blake Barnett who could have used that year to put Alabama in a better position for years to come.
Now you know why.
Nick Saban isn’t going to risk the here and now for the maybe tomorrow. Looking back, one of those “one and done” rookies took us to a national championship playoff and the other won it all. One can certainly think Nick knows what he’s doing.
So while there’s no doubt that Jalen Hurt can put some excitement in the job of quarterback, while he may have the possibly of more “gee whiz” kind of plays, while he may benefit next year with playing time this year, if he’s not the best quarterback who knows how the playbook and system inside out, limits turnovers and moves the chains steadily and reliably, then he’s not Nick’s man. Nick wants the guy who’s the best guy that puts the team in the best position to beat USC in that first game and to hell with the future. It’s all about the here and right damned now.
The future will take care of itself, in the future he’ll still be playing the best players that give them the best shot of winning that game that week and if that’s Jalen Hurts in one year or two years down the road, then that’s what will happen and you can bet the darn bank on it.
Nick Saban doesn’t change his mind often and changes his philosophies even less. Now you know a little more about the man and the thought process he uses, so if you’re one of the folks excited about the prospect of Jalen Hurt getting the job and would have been disappointed if he doesn’t get it, now you know why.
Let’s just watch it all unfold and you don’t have to say, “May the best man win” in Saban’s system, it always will.
Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter