Saban Says He's Misunderstood While Results Speak for Themselves

Saban Says He's Misunderstood While Results Speak for Themselves

As the 2013 college football season approaches, the dynamic has never been clearer: there is Nick Saban and the Alabama football program and then there is everybody else.

In part because of that success and likewise because of the singularly focused mentality that fuels it, the head coach of the Crimson Tide is among the most hated figures in sports. Some believe he cheats. Some find his personality abrasive. Some just do not like him because they are sick of him winning. 

To take a look at the most successful head coach of his generation, Warren St. John, who authored Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer about Alabama football, wrote an in-depth profile for GQ that has an interesting beginning: “I’ve been in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, all of twenty minutes when I hear my first Nick Saban-is-a-maniac story.”

The story, as St. John tells it, involves a conversation with Saban’s golfing buddy who congratulated the head coach on the national championship victory over LSU in January of 2012. The coaches’ response was not what he expected. “That damn game cost me a week of recruiting,” Saban replied.

That unrelenting mentality is hard to replicate and the source of why Alabama is racking up titles on the field and fictitious titles in the recruiting world.

“The thing that amazes me about him is that he doesn’t let up,” saysretired Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. “People start winning, theyslack off. But he just keeps jumping on ‘complacency, complacency,complacency.’ Most coaches don’t think like that.”

Yet beyond the stories of a driven coach and the more personal look at Nick Saban is an ongoing theme touched on in the story that has been a hot topic this offseason: people do not like the Alabama coach, and he does not really understand why.

St. John reviews why many fans have a disdain for the coach outside of jealousy:

“His detractors have their case file. In Miami he once stepped over aconvulsing player after practice without acknowledging his presence.Saban was also captured on film screaming at a 300-pound lineman untilthe poor guy walked away weeping. Saban then enraged Dolphins fans whenhe left for Alabama after saying he wouldn’t. In the college ranks, he’sbeen accused of flouting the rules limiting scholarship numbers byencouraging injured players to leave the team. In 2007, he likened aloss to 9/11. The iconic images of Nick Saban after his championshipwins are not of a jubilant victor lifting a crystal football over hishead but of a coach giving the death stare to players who dared to dousehim with Gatorade.”

Moreover, the coach was called the “devil” multiple times this offseason by coaches who know him and are familiar with how he operates.

“It used to upset me,” he told St. John. “I would come and say to my wife, ‘I’mnot like that at all. Why do these guys say I’m that way?’ And she wouldsay, ‘You ever watch yourself in a press conference?’ You can blame theother guy for saying it, or you can look at yourself and say, ‘I musthave contributed to this.'”

Saban went on. “I think I’m pretty misunderstood, because I’m not just about football,”he told St. John. “I’m kind of portrayed as this one-dimensional personwho–this is everything to me. I almost feel like I’m not that way at all.”

Whether Saban is misunderstood or not, everyone is trying to catch him. Auburn fell behind the Tide when Saban arrived and responded by firing Tommy Tuberville. When they fell behind again after losing Cam Newton, they fired Gene Chizik. When Alabama built a facility unlike any that had been seen before, Oregon followed suite. Salaries continue to rise to approach the more than $5 million Saban brings in annually, and, beyond Les Miles, Steve Spurrier, and Mark Richt, not a single head coach remains from the time when he reentered the league and many have gone through multiple coaches in an attempt to keep up.

As college football prepares for the  2013 season, Nick Saban continues to set the tone in college football. His team, extremely talented once again, is in pursuit of a three-peat. However, it is interesting that, for the second time this offseason, the abrasive coach appears vulnerable when talking about his reputation.

Regardless of any improvement or stagnation in that perception, Nick Saban remains both the king of the college football world while, for the time being, also serving as its chief villain. Nevertheless, he is headed toward a unique place in the college football world. His results, which speak for themselves, cannot be misunderstood.