On Nick Saban, age, adapting to change and being resolute

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Success is shaped by finding the right mix between being open to change while being resolute in principle. Great coaches, like Nick Saban, find the mix and grow championships.

Greatness is such an overused word in athletics and entertainment. It is even over-used when applied to Alabama football. Bestowing ‘greatness’ among each season’s elite recruits who are yet to play a game is one example. Not overused is anytime greatness is used to describe Nick Saban.

Extraordinary people can accomplish great achievements. Nick Saban is one of those people.

Arguably the greatest college football coach of all-time, Nick Saban is slow to embrace accolades bestowed on him. It does not appear to be false modesty.

What Nick Saban has built, in growing football programs and young men, is in high demand. Since no amount of money will lure him away from Tuscaloosa, other programs fight over the best Nick Saban clone. Georgia believes they have one. Maybe so, maybe not.

Even if Saban could be cloned, the replica would still have imperfections. Like all of us mortals, Nick Saban is far from perfect. But unlike almost all of the rest of us, Saban relentlessly pursues perfection.

What is near-perfect in a coach?

There are many ways to answer the question by discussing a multitude of essential attributes. We have a scaled-down answer. Near-perfect in a coach is a person who repeatedly finds the right blend between being open to change while also being resolute. No amount of other attributes can overcome failing to find that special blend of purpose.

Nick Saban is famous for mental discipline and for his core message of focusing on what an individual can influence. To Saban, the external influences, beyond the control of individuals, are not worthy of attention.

The Alabama football program is fortunate to claim the two greatest coaches in college football history. Neither man is known as an innovator. What Bryant and Saban mastered was taking the innovative ideas of others and incorporating them into a continuum of team-focused, individual attention to detail.

The wishbone was a smashing success before Paul Bryant decided to adopt it. What it became under Bryant was something more. A combination of relentless rushing attack with highly efficient deep-ball passing. Nick Saban took highly sophisticated NFL defenses and taught college players to execute them.

Neither invented something new. Neither has been afraid to try something new. Saban did it more recently by modeling a new Alabama football offense through the wrinkles of Lane Kiffin, Brian Daboll and Steve Sarkisian. The end product has remade Alabama football into something it has never been.

Such boldness requires more than just being open to new ideas. It also requires being confident in purpose and resolute in adhering to uncompromised standards of performance. Not many men are capable of such a mixture of acuity and laser-focused attention to absolutely every detail. Paul Bryant was. Nick Saban is. The result has been 12 Crimson Tide National Championships.

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None of us are immune to age. It got to Bryant, though it was not so much the number of years, but more the wearing down of the mind and the body. Age will eventually chase down Nick Saban. No one is the greatest of anything forever. Until then, Alabama football fans can rely on Saban being younger in body and spirit than anyone else at or near his age.