Leadership lessons from Saban

Submitted by iawolve on September 7th, 2012 at 10:19 AM

Honestly, this is a pretty interesting read from Fotune. Yes, it is softball, but sheds a lot of light on how this guy works. Some of it you really could not make up. In a way, I almost feel sorry for the way this guy exists. A few strange gems.


"As he sits down at a small table in his expansive wood-paneled corner office, the coach grabs what looks like a garage-door opener and presses the button. Across the room, the door to his office softly whooshes shut. Boom! Nick Saban just saved three seconds." 


"Every day, Saban sits at this very table and works through his lunch hour while eating the same exact meal: a salad of iceberg lettuce and cherry tomatoes topped with turkey slices and fat-free honey Dijon dressing. No time wasted studying a menu."





September 7th, 2012 at 12:09 PM ^

Based on what I have seen of him, it does not look like Saban likes winning as much as he is obsessed with it, and to a larger extent, maybe just obsessed with the control that he feels when he wins.  I have never seen any indication that Saban actually enjoys what he does, in fact, he does very much come across as a person not really capable of enjoying things.  He wins, because that is what he needs to do, not what he wants to do. 


September 7th, 2012 at 10:35 AM ^

Well we've seen how well his daughter was raised, battering another young lady in a post-drunken-driving rage.  Excuse me, I shouldn't have said "another young lady".  Perhaps, heffer would have been more appropriate, as Ms. Saban appears as though she was following the Alabama football teams' eating habits.  Unlike her father, who seems to follow the eating habits of 110 pound divorees.


Wolverine in Troy

September 7th, 2012 at 10:38 AM ^

""As he sits down at a small table in his expansive wood-paneled corner office, the coach grabs what looks like a garage-door opener and presses the button. Across the room, the door to his office softly whooshes shut. Boom! Nick Saban just saved three seconds."

Does he use those three seconds to put in his heel inserts?


September 7th, 2012 at 10:40 AM ^

I might be in the minority, but I don't dislike Saban at all (things might be different in they were in our conference). Whether the information in this article is all true, who knows? But I do like the idea of having psychological "profiles" of players so you know which buttons can be pushed and which can't. Having kids who play sports, it is infinitely clear that some players respond to certain types of motivation, while others recoil from the same tactics. My son plays travel baseball and is the kind of kid who gets down on himself, even after walking one batter. At first, the coaches got down on him for getting down on himself. They'd make him run after an inning for hanging his head. Then, after many games of this not working from a motivational standpoint, they started to tell other players to "hug him up." He'd come into the dugout, head hung, and the other players would hug him, which would make him laugh, and that would get his head out of the bad place. Then he could resume playing at his best. They started using this on other players, too, who would get down on themselves. It was just refreshing to hear that a big-time coach like Saban is smart and sensitive enough to get that. 


September 7th, 2012 at 11:32 AM ^

In all the sports my kids have played, with many different coaches, only one coach coached with this in mind. One of my son's baseball coaches this past season told me that it wasn't until college that he get coached as an individual (he played football at Marquette). Up until that point, it had been cookie cutter coaching. He told me it made a huge difference not only in his performance, but in how much he invested in the game, and how much he cared. 


September 7th, 2012 at 12:57 PM ^

I dislike him because of the way he uses, and throws away, young college scholar ahtletes, and manipulates every rule, and ideal of good sportsmanship to his own advantage with no thought or concern for the spirit of the rules, or of the game. He's a good coach, in a great environment, but it's like he's trying to coach like it's the pros. College isn't the pros, you can't treat kids like that, and you should be a better sport than that. He doesn't come off as a slimy used car salesman like some winning coaches do, he comes off as a Marv Marinovich type. 

I'd rather have modest or occasional success and coaches who mentor young kids, and stay in their lives like Bo did with Billy Taylor, ect than have regular success on the field, but none in life. Michigan does things the right way, Saban really doesn't.

His Dudeness

September 7th, 2012 at 10:53 AM ^

I think I speak for all Blockhams-plus-dick guys when I say Nick Saban is a very small, very outrageously cranky man who looks like he smells of some sort of deep woods aftershave with a faint tint of cigar smoke and a liberal portion of ass-holery.


September 7th, 2012 at 10:56 AM ^

So what I got out of this was two things:


1. Nick Saban has a remote control that closes his office door.

2. He eats the same lunch every day. It's a salad made out of lettuce, tomatoes, turkey, and honey dijon dressing. This is admirable because he doesn't have to take time out of his schedule to look at a menu or choose what to eat.


Am I the only one who thinks that 1. is bizarre and 2. is neurotic?


September 7th, 2012 at 10:56 AM ^

Eventually this guy is either going to snap or start reading his own press and lose control of his program by thinking he is Nero.

Examples of driven, successful coaches and the result:

Woody - snapped

Carroll - Nero syndrome

Tressel - Nero syndrome

Meyers - snapped

JoPa - Nero syndrome






September 7th, 2012 at 12:48 PM ^

It's a well known fact that the Bear was a raging alcoholic. I wonder what skeletons lurk in Nick Saban's psychological closet. You can't be a guy with a remote control for your door and the same salad every day for lunch and not have something bottled up somewhere.

SC Wolverine

September 7th, 2012 at 11:13 AM ^

Much to admire in Saban but not much to like.  At least his passion is for the improvement of his players -- that was quite admirable.  My main thought was what will happen to this program whenever Saban leaves?  A program completely bought into a process that is completely dependent on the strange passion of one man.  You gotta give it to Bama, after they beat us the way they did.  But I wouldn't want this for UM.

Another thought I had was, "Wouldn't it be better for a guy to put this much passion into something more significant than a game?"  A guy with this kind of machine-like sacrificial approach ought to be trying to cure cancer.  I know the guy is just not a scientist, but a coach. But you have to wonder if the sacrifice is worth it for a game.


September 7th, 2012 at 11:21 AM ^

You are somewhat correct, except what if he has no interest in curing cancer? Or solving world hunger? What if he has no other niche in life but to do this? I admire him but I agree in the grand scheme of "things," it's a completely useless use of time. Now, you can argue he impacts these young men, but does saban actually really do that? Our guy does, which gives it purpose, but I've only heard bad things about saban and his "impact."

Perkis-Size Me

September 7th, 2012 at 11:11 AM ^

If you don't absolutely love what you're doing, then I feel like this lifestyle would make you want to quit after a few months.

Personally, I could never live such a highly regimented lifestyle. But if Saban can find a way to make it work, and be as successful as he has been, more power to him, I guess.


September 7th, 2012 at 11:19 AM ^

"Above all, Saban keeps his players and coaches focused on execution -- yes, another word for process -- rather than results. " - from the article

I saw  this and found it interesting. Many good managers do in fact do this, keep people focused on the process and making improvements to the process rather than productivity piece (wins, in this case). The idea being, of course, that continually improving the process will produce results as close to ideal as possible over time. The other thing that he seems to do which also takes place in some of the more successful firms is that the work, in as much as possible, is very standardized. Granted, football isn't a manufacturing space, but certain routines can be universally implemented in a program all the same. I can see where that approach could yield results if you can get massive buy-in, which he seems to have done in Tuscaloosa.

There's a lot to be said to approaching the game (or a business) like that, but there is a huge risk that Alabama is taking once he leaves that the "continuous improvement" approach to the game may not be the next coach's thing, and I think you might see a couple comparatively "meh" years down there as a result.

turbo cool

September 7th, 2012 at 11:32 AM ^

People are wired differently. In my case, I eat the same breakfast and lunch everyday, workout at the same time, have a routine at work, etc., similar to what is described for Saban. Yeah, my days are almost always planned out but here's the thing, it works for me and it definitely has worked for Saban. Whatever works, man. Everyone is different.  

State Street

September 7th, 2012 at 11:43 AM ^

tl;dr for all:

Saban is just like Urban Meyer with his obsessive compulsive addiction to football, minus the crazy alpha-female wife.

By the way, I think Brady Hoke would rather sing "Carmen Ohio" nude in The Oval than sit down to lunch with a reporter while eating a salad.


September 7th, 2012 at 11:53 AM ^

I never liked the guy.  He is one that takes advantage of the system.  Everyone is afraid of him.  There are scholarship limits for Saban and then there are scholarship limits for everyone else.  It's unethecial to over recruit and then weed out the ones that can't help.  And it's suppose to  be against the NCAA rules.

Steve in PA

September 7th, 2012 at 1:14 PM ^

Saban reminds me of a great white shark in more ways than one.  The shark is an extremely specialized killing machine that has made so many evolutionary tradeoffs that if it quits swimming it dies.

Saban has becme so amazingly specialized at winning that it seems other aspects of his existance have been discarded.  I can't help but wonder if Howard Hughes' end is what awaits him?


September 7th, 2012 at 6:19 PM ^

I bet he spends and extra 15 min in the bathroom making sure his hair is perfect. By my count he's still in the hole with the automatic door.


September 7th, 2012 at 9:49 PM ^

Whatever it is Saban does that makes him so successful, I doubt it involves obsessing and getting all emo on the rare occasion that he loses a game.

Saban is very good at what he does. And it strains credulity to attribute his success exclusively to oversigning or other sliminess. There are other, slimier head coaches who haven't had anywhere near the level of success that Saban has had (like that Ohio State assistant coach under John Cooper who tried to get Robert Smith kicked off the team because he thought Smith studied too much). It's okay to admit that Saban is an excellent football coach. It doesn't diminish Michigan or Brady Hoke. His team won because they deserved to win. It sucks but it is what it is. We'll have our day (especially since Hoke will probably stay at Michigan much longer than Saban will stay at 'Bama). Let's move on.

Jebus, the 'Bama game was almost a week ago and we're still waxing butthurt. Have we become Sparty?  


September 7th, 2012 at 8:07 PM ^

But it doesn't stop there. In addition to school and football, Alabama players take a curriculum of classes designed by the Pacific Institute, a leadership-development consultant based in Seattle, and implemented by a mix of conditioning coaches and trainers that All-American offensive lineman Barrett Jones refers to as "our shrink coach staff." The lessons focus on reinforcing positive habits through mental conditioning. "I x V = R," says Jones, offering up one affirmation formula. "Imagination times vividness equals reality."


That's pretty cool if you ask me...  Saban is growing on me...



September 7th, 2012 at 9:47 PM ^

The guy clearly pays an obsessive level of attention to detail. Remember when he flipped out after his defense was flagged for being offsides even though they had a 31-0 lead by then? He could have let it slide or shown only mild annoyance, but the way he reacted, you would have thought it was his team that was trailing 31-0.  

Another thing I have to give him credit for is that he doesn't allow his team to grow complacent. He makes sure his players know that they won't win unless they work their assess off and prepare like crazy, no matter who the opponent is. Check out how he reacted to a reporter's question after 'Bama beat Clemson a couple of years ago: 

Respect. I'm sick of trying to find reasons to think that he's not as good as his record indicates or that he wins only because he's slimy. It sounds like perpetual sore loser Domer syndrome. It's time to acknowledge that the guy can flat-out coach. I don't think it diminishes Michigan or Brady Hoke to admit that the team we just got thrashed by is extremely well-coached.