Greatness According To Nick Saban

Greatness According To Nick Saban

If you’re a sports fan you know with the dawn of free agency and rise of player movement in the last two decades it’s become almost impossible to win championships on a consistent basis.

Before the 1980’s in the US sports dynasties were normal.  They could do this because player movement was restricted.

This kept player salaries down and meant that the best teams had huge competitive advantages over poor teams.  If you’re all getting paid about the same doesn’t it make sense to stay with a great team instead of going to a bad one?

This changed in the US in the 1980’s though…

Free agency, drafts, and salary caps became the norm.  Poor teams could now pay huge amounts to star players to lure them away from championship teams.  Drafting players became more important as they’re generally cheaper than star players.  And salary caps in professional football and basketball meant talent was spread around the league instead of concentrated on a handful of teams.

This all led to higher salaries for great – and sometimes even average – players.  More player movement.  And fewer super teams and dynasties forming as talent spread around.

Now most teams in all sports around the world go through periods of relative success followed by failure until the cycle repeats and the team goes on an up – or down – swing again.

Few teams win championships.  And even fewer win them on a consistent basis.  The ones that do should be studied.

Unlike most people in America who root for the underdogs in big games and playoffs, if my favorite team isn’t involved I always root for greatness to beat the underdog.

I want to watch the best of the best play for and win championships.  I don’t like watching inferior teams beat better ones with a “lucky bounce” or fortunate call by referees.

I love when skill, hard work, perseverance, drive, and passion trumps luck.  So when I see greatness I try to study it.  And I thought this would be a great topic to post about since all of us here are trying to reach greatness.

This post is the first in a planned three post arc focusing on great teams from the world of sports.  In these posts I’ll focus on the head coaches, star players, and team structures over the long-term.  The hope is we all can learn something about what it takes to become – and stay – great at what we do.

If these posts are popular I’ll turn it into a regular series.

Today’s Part 1 is about head coach five time football champion head coach Nick Saban now of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide.

Saban’s led the Crimson Tide to championships in four out of the last seven years.  Only the second team since 1936 to do this.  Saban’s other title was when he coached at LSU.

Below is a profile of this championship coach with linked articles detailing his processes.

Nick Saban

Excerpts below are from linked articles.  Bolded emphasis is mine.  My notes are the non quoted lines.

The following is from: The Lesson From Nick Saban’s Championship Reign is to stop trying to copy Nick Saban.

Success breeds imitation in every industry. In football, when a coach figures out something, hoards of administrators notice.  Offenses come up with something new, defenses adjust, offenses adjust to the adjustment, etc.

With Saban, however, teams have attempted to copy without figuring out what they should be copying. They hire his assistants, hoping his influence rubs off. Sometimes it does. Former Alabama DBs coach Jeremy Pruitt became Florida State’s defensive coordinator in 2013 and helped to boost the Seminoles to the national title under head coach and fellow former Saban assistant Jimbo Fisher. Often, it doesn’t. Former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp took the Florida head coaching job three years after a Gator national title and won more than seven games just once.

To imitators, Saban’s Process™ seems to consist of strong defense and occasional offense. Because he is a former defensive coordinator himself, that is the product. But that isn’t the Process. The Process is the path, not the style.

Love this saying.

To truly imitate Saban, you look first for someone who runs the most organized, effective recruiting operation on the planet

The following list is from the article talking about how Saban approaches everything.

You must develop.

Saban pushes a lot of kids out the door. If you do not fill a depth chart spot or fill a niche, odds are pretty good that you will be transferring. But many are willing to wait a couple of years for serious playing time because they know they’ll develop.

What is your niche?  What is your competitive advantage?  Are you willing to put in the time to improve?

You must deploy your talented, well-developed players appropriately.

You don’t have to take many strategic risks when you’ve got a talent advantage in every game, but you need to make sure that these players belong to a system is built to defeat the opponents you will play on a yearly basis. And if your offense or defense gets a little staid, you must be willing to make changes.

If you’re in a leadership position are you putting your “players” into the proper positions to succeed?  If so are they the right people for your system?

You must be impossibly organized.

A place for everything, everything in its place.

Love this saying as well.

If, despite all that, you find yourself in a dogfight for the national title, you must have the guts to call for a surprise onside kick by Griffith with 10 minutes left in a tied game.

If you read the article you’ll know this play wasn’t a fluke.  Saban and the coaching staff knew from watching film to look for this tendency during the game.  And since they saw Clemson doing the same thing over and over on kick returns they knew this onside kick would work if executed properly.

The teams that find a way past Alabama do it by following a path that isn’t Alabama’s.

Strive for greatness but don’t emulate something that doesn’t adhere to your philosophy and principles.  Create your own path for greatness.

This sport requires you to learn the right lessons when you fail, lest you be doomed to fail even more. Those who attempt to imitate Saban have already failed. There is only one Nick Saban.

There’s also only one Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Seth Klarman, etc in our business.  Strive for greatness by taking knowledge from the greats.  But don’t try to emulate them exactly.  Create your own path for greatness.

The following is from Nick Saban: Sympathy For The Devil.  This is an older article… He’s now won five total national titles.  And four of the last seven.

Saban’s pathological drive helps explain why he’s both one of the most successful coaches in American sports and, simultaneously, one of the most polarizing. He has now won four national championships—one at LSU and three over the past four years at Alabama, a coaching run unmatched in college football in more than half a century—

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

Are you grounded enough to continue to work towards greatness after success?

Most big-time head coaches leave camp duty to assistants—the daylong photo session with every last camper is considered enough—but in Saban’s mind that wouldn’t be right. He has a saying: Right is never wrong. It means, in essence, there is only one way to do things: the correct way. A Nick Saban Football Camp without a great deal of Nick Saban would be something short of entirely right and is therefore, to Saban, unthinkable.

Love this saying and mindset.

Saban’s guiding vision is something he calls “the process,” a philosophy that emphasizes preparation and hard work over consideration of outcomes or results. Barrett Jones, an offensive lineman on all three of Saban’s national championship teams at Alabama and now a rookie with the St. Louis Rams, explains the process this way: “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.”

Taken to an extreme—which is where Saban takes it—the process has evolved into an exhausting quest to improve, to attain the ideal of “right is never wrong.” At Alabama, Saban obsesses over every aspect of preparation, from how the players dress at practice—no hats, earrings, or tank tops are allowed in the football facility—to how they hold their upper bodies when they run sprints. “When you’re running and you’re exhausted you really want to bend over,” Jones says. “They won’t let you. ‘You must resist the human need to bend over!'”

“He pretty much tells everybody what our philosophy is, but not everyone has the discipline to actually live out that philosophy,” Jones says. “The secret of Nick Saban is, there is no secret.”

What is your philosophy?  What are your processes? And do you have the discipline to live by them?  Every day?

If you poke around Alabama for a few weeks, you’ll run into a lot of people who’ve had similarly awkward interactions with Saban—on the golf course, perhaps, or at booster banquets, where Saban often looks like a man held captive. Those close to him make excuses for the behavior. His wife, Terry, says he’s shy and introverted. His golf buddy Rumsey says Saban has a kind of tunnel vision that short-circuits social niceties.

“He’ll walk by people and they’ll think he’s rude,” Rumsey says. “He’s not an asshole—he never saw ’em!”

Reminds me of stories I’ve read of Munger in places like the book Damn Right.

Even among his adversaries, Saban is regarded as a master of X’s and O’s.

“I don’t want people to think I’m not happy when we win—I am,” Saban says. “But there’s a difference between being happy for the feeling of accomplishing something and being overjoyed and feeling ‘This is it—we conquered the world.’ We didn’t. We just won a game.”

The following is from: Do You Really Want To Know What It Takes To Beat Alabama?

If you want to know how to beat Alabama, the answer is simple. You need five turnovers and need to make none yourself. You need a lottery ticket, a lightning strike, or both. You need a whole bureaucratic apparatus devoted to reducing any possible loss to a gross accumulation of statistical anomalies.

Even then, you don’t get the two things that make this all work.

The first is Saban. He is not a renewable resource, as far as I know, but his transformation of Alabama into a ratings-killing certainty so oppressive it might have blacked out the sun for an entire generation of rickets-stricken coaches and players is complete. There is no adjustment against him. He will outwork you or hire people to outwork you and the people you hire. No one is more committed to building Football Walmart and bankrupting your mom-and-pop programs. No one.

How committed are you?

Give up on this idea of doing his thing better. Hire a bandito with a spread passing attack and zero fear of death. Hope for five turnovers or the NFL to poach him away*. Life is about being brave in the face of inevitable doom. Until someone does, Saban will charge you all unfair rates for sunlight.

The following is from Nick Saban Is Ready For Everything.

“He understands every element of human performance,” Moawad wrote in the email. “And there is no contingency that he doesn’t prepare for.”

Are you prepared enough?

It’s true. There are no accidents. There are onside kicks that will almost certainly work. There is an army of assistants and former assistants versed in the Process and ready to serve at a moment’s notice. And there is a head coach who has no idea when he’ll finally be ready to stop kicking everyone else’s butt.

So… Are you really ready to strive for greatness?  Are you willing to outwork the titans of the investment and business worlds to achieve that greatness?  Let me know in the comments below.

Also let me know in the comments below how I can improve this series going forward as I already have two other articles planned.

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