Saban Personifies the Difference Between a Big Shot and a Great Man

Some people are “Big Shots” and they want you to know it. Fewer people are truly great men. If you want to know the difference, look at Nick Saban and you’ll understand.

Nick and Terry Saban opening the Nick's Kids Playground at the Alberta School of Performing Arts (Photo - Nick's Kids)

Saban Personifies the Difference Between a Big Shot and a Great Man

By: Larry Burton

Nick Saban knows he’s a “Big Shot” in people’s minds, but he doesn’t feel that way in his own heart. To understand Saban, you have to understand his upbringing and his father. His father raised him to “Be a man” and being a man meant manning up to the things that make a boy a man. Be honest, treat people with respect but first and foremost, do the very best you can at what you are doing at that particular time and try and get a little better every day.

To a young Nick Saban, that meant not just be a man, but be a great man and that’s what he has done.

A big shot doesn’t have time for folks who can’t further his own agenda, a great man makes time for people who need his help. If the girls volley ball coach comes to Saban and ask if he can speak to a young lady who is thinking of committing to the University of Alabama, but has other schools on her radar too, Saban does it. He’ll meet with her, talk to her parents and make them feel that this is the most important thing he has on his agenda right now. He won’t blow smoke, but sell the school, the athletic program and the coach they’ll be playing for. It will all look and feel sincere because it is. That is Nick Saban.

Here is Saban visiting the Alabama School of Music to spend some time and urge them on to more.

Nick Saban reminds me of my own father. He worked seven days a week and still helped folks with projects and was always doing projects at his church. When he was asked how he looked for volunteers to do the various projects he was involved with his reply was, “I look for people who lead really busy lives. They’re used to being busy and can always fit one more thing into their schedule. Don’t ask a person who has lots of time on their hands. There’s a reason they have so much time on their hands, they’re lazy and don’t want to do anything.” That’s Nick Saban too, a busier man you won’t find, but he always has time to help others.

Saban has reached the station in life he has because he’s earned that spot through the efforts of his own sweat, toil and time. He didn’t inherit it, he wasn’t given it and he didn’t luck into it. Most great people you meet who have attained what Saban has, the way Saban has, are usually cut from the same cloth.

A “Big Shot” is often someone who is missing the pieces of a proper upbringing, who shortcut their way to the top, or simply forgot that other people helped them get where they are.

Nick Saban grew up putting gas in the cars driven by men with coal dust smeared across their faces from working in the bowels of the earth in an area where life was hard and good times were hard to come by compared to the work and lives the folks there had to endure. He was part of the lower echelon in many ways. His childhood had few fun outlets, the biggest was sports and just like many young men, he used his skill and wits in sports to escape from where he came from to find a better life.

His life as an athlete led him to coaching, but just got him to the first rung on the ladder, a graduate assistant’s job making starvation wages but to Saban, just getting to ladder was the only thing he needed.

Now he’s climbed that ladder to the top, but again, the difference between being a big shot and a great man shows through. Instead of stepping on others to get a rung higher, Saban has pulled people up with him. Not just coaches he’s help up the ladder, but each player who played for him. He gave them the same lessons he learned from his Dad and the lessons he’s learned himself along the way up.

“I have learned so much more from Coach (Saban) than just football.” AJ McCarron once told me. “Whether I do anything great from here in football or not, I will be successful because of the things I’ve gotten from him. He’s helped me so much in so many areas.” McCarron finished.

A “Big Shot” will take all the credit for anything he can and a great man will give others the credit for helping them all achieve whatever goal has been attained. That too personifies Nick Saban. “We achieved what we did this season because this team bought in to what it takes day in and day out to achieve this goal. Because of them and their attitude in how they did the things that needed to be done, we are Champions and it’s all because of them.” Saban once said about one of his championship teams.

A “Big Shot” may try and show off his trophy wife to make other jealous and envious of what he’s got. A great man seeks to show the world that his wife is also his partner in all his success and a source of strength he needed to achieve that success.

“Well, I think that’s the thing you have to have appreciation for,” Saban said. “Sometimes when (takes a pause) you probably don’t even know what an old, rusted-out Volkswagen is, like 19-whatever that would have been (something in the) 60s, and go through the struggles you go through, personally and professionally. And to have a partner that has been supportive and an asset to the organization in every way is something that is really appreciated. She’s been a great partner. I don’t know why she puts up with me, but I’m very fortunate.”

Lastly, a big shot uses his fortune and fame to glorify himself and make his own life the most it can be. A great man uses his fortune and fame to help others make the most of their lives and be all they can be. Nick’s Kids, his favorite charity, is so much more than just another coach’s charitable cause. It’s something from the heart from both Terry, his wife and himself. He didn’t escape a poor Appalachian life through luck, but hard work, but he and Terry both consider themselves lucky for the lives the have and are eager to lovingly help others. Each person who receives a scholarship, a new home that their foundation helped Habitat for Humanity puts kids in, the playgrounds and more is just the Saban’s way not only displaying their resolve to help other people but their faith as well.

A “Big Shot” will stand on his tip toes and want to be noticed for all he has achieved. A great man will get on his knees in a quiet place and thank God for giving him the tools to achieve all he has. The Sabans are devout Christians and members of the St. Francis Catholic church. While a “Big Shot” may donate to a church to get his name prominently displayed, a great man will attend one as well.

Yes, in football, there are quite a few great coaches who achieved great things, but there are fewer men who have done that and personified all that it takes to also be a great man. Alabama is lucky that Nick Saban is not only that, but practicing that conviction at the University of Alabama but teaching that to all who will listen.

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


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