The next time a book is written about Nick Saban maybe one of the first chapters should be called Saban in Love.
When the Alabama football coach talked on a College Football Playoff championship game Zoom conference call on Thursday, he said two of the biggest factors in him choosing coaching as a career were a push from Don James, his college coach at Kent State, and his wife Terry.
“I never really wanted to be a coach. I think I have to give all the credit to Don James, who was my college coach, calling me in one day and saying, ‘I’d like for you to be a GA (graduate assistant,)’ and I immediately responded that ‘I’m tired of going to school, I don’t really want to go to graduate school, and I don’t want to be a coach, so why would I do something like this?’ Saban said.
“But he was pretty convincing that it’s something that I should try. My wife Terry had another year of school, so I really couldn’t go on and do anything else because she wanted to finish and we wanted her to finish and we had promised our parents that if they let us get married that we’d both graduate from college.”
It didn’t take long for Saban to decide he really liked coaching.
“When I did it, I just absolutely loved it. It was a lot like being a player except you didn’t have to run wind sprints after practice or anything like that. I liked the competitive nature of being a part of a team,” he said.
“I feel very fortunate that I’ve been in a profession where I don’t feel like I’m going to work every day because I really enjoy what I’m doing.”
Fortunate doesn’t begin to describe how Alabama’s fan base feels about Saban making the Crimson Tide the most dominant program in college football since he arrived in 2007.
Alabama will be trying to win its sixth national championship in Saban’s 14 seasons there and his seventh overall, counting one at LSU in 2003, when it plays Ohio State in the College Football Playoff national championship game Monday night in Miami. He has a 169-23 record at Alabama and the Crimson Tide has won at least 10 games every season but his first as its coach.
Alabama claimed six national championships in polls and never had a losing season in the legendary Bear Bryant’s 25 years as its coach from 1958 to 1982.
After Bryant retired, and died only weeks later, Ray Perkins, Bill Curry and Gene Stallings followed him and all had at least one season of 10 wins or more and Stallings had a national championship team in 1992.
The next three Alabama coaches — Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula — combined for more losing seasons (4) than teams that finished in the Top Ten (3) in 10 seasons. Alabama lost five years in a row to its biggest rival, Auburn, and had losses against Central Florida, Southern Mississippi and Northern Illinois during that decade of decay.
It also was hit by NCAA sanctions and fired coach Mike Price in 2003 before he ever coached a game after salacious accusations in a Sports Illustrated story.
Longtime Alabama and ESPN sports talk personality Paul Finebaum once described DuBose, Franchione and Shula as “a collection of misfits” and said their teams created “a malaise that led to mediocrity.”
That’s what Saban was hired to change. But not before Alabama offered the job to Rich Rodriguez, then at West Virginia, who turned it down.
And he did change it. At age 69, Saban doesn’t have any thoughts of leaving Alabama anytime soon. With the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in the country for the ninth time in the last 11 years, Alabama isn’t going away, either.