Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Great new article

AJC's Tony Barnhart interviews Coach Saban last Saturday...

My only problem....if Alabama was the "new wife" she would be afraid that he would return to his old flame, and soulmate, LSU...

Saban: 'I try to do the right things'

Published on: 08/30/07

Since 92,138 of them turned out for Nick Saban's unofficial coaching debut – in a spring game, no less – Alabama fans have been counting down the days until kickoff. Saban, who in January became college football's highest-paid coach, sat in his office with the AJC's Tony Barnhart last weekend to discuss his hopes to change the culture in Tuscaloosa, how he mishandled his departure from the Miami Dolphins and more.

Q: You're days away from your first game as Alabama coach. What's the most important thing you still don't know?

A: I'm anxious to see what happens if things don't go well on the field. That will be the key to the drill. That's a problem on our team right now. That's the culture here. Players have high expectations, but as soon as something goes bad, they kind of go in the tank. And that's lethal when it comes to being a competitor.

Q: You say you want to change the culture at Alabama. What do you mean by that?

A: We live in a culture of instant gratification. It's the fans. It's the media. It's the way young people look at the world. I had to get on my guys one day. I told them, "You guys are talking about winning a championship. Fans are talking about winning a championship. And nobody has done anything to win a championship. You guys don't go to class. You don't work like you need to on the field. You're not dedicated to being as good a player as you can be." I told them, "Do you guys think you're doing anything different than what Tennessee, LSU and Auburn are doing?" I just got tired of hearing it.

Q: Does that learning curve also exist for the fans?

A: I wouldn't want to coach anyplace where they didn't have an expectation of winning. But expectations also are what set people up so that if things go wrong, they think the sky is falling. We've got this expectation that everything is going to be great. But as soon as it's not great, it's a catastrophe. So how do you improve in that environment? It's like everything is all or nothing. It's important that we get that message out there, and I try to talk directly to our fans every chance I get.

Q: The word in the coaching fraternity is you're a tough guy to work for. Is that fair? Why do you push people the way you do?

A: To me, the human condition is not to be great. Most people are satisfied to make a C. Some people want to do good so they can take it easy. That's the way most people are. Trying to be the very best you can be is really kind of special. It takes a certain amount of character and mental and physical toughness to succeed. It's not normal to go out there in 100-degree heat and do what you have to do to win a championship.

Q: Does it bother you that members of the media, particularly in Miami, continue to pound you over the way you handled your decision to come here?

A: It does bother me, and I do care about it because I try to be a good person. I try to do the right things. I try to do the right things for other people. I try to do the right things for my players. I am constantly trying to do the right things, and it's hard to do because you can't please everybody.

Q: But do you understand that reaction, given the fact that you stood up in that news conference in Miami and said that you would not be Alabama's coach?

A: I should have handled it better. I should have just not talked about it. But it kept coming up and it kept coming up. Then came the hypothetical question: "Will you be the coach here next year?" I never answer hypothetical questions, but in this case I did, and I made a mistake. And [then] people questioned my character and integrity. It was a tough situation and I didn't handle it very well and I'm responsible for it. So whatever is happening to me, I know it's nobody's fault but mine.

Q: Is there any concern this issue will follow you for the rest of your career?

A: The biggest mistake was leaving college football in the first place. That's what I like and that is where I think I can affect people the most. I've been on the ethics committee for the NCAA. I've been on the rules committee for the NCAA. I would like to think I've done a lot of good things for college football. It's important to me. So to get beat up when it's not really who you are, it's not easy. But I think who I am is more important than what I did or what everybody thinks. I will probably forever regret the way that all happened.

Q: Any other regrets?

A: I will forever regret what this has done to my relationship to the people in Louisiana, who I have a tremendous amount of respect for and love dearly. We accomplished something with those people [winning the 2003 BCS championship at LSU] that is as special as anything that has been accomplished in my life. And now that's tarnished because now it's that I'm a traitor because I came here.

Q: Bottom line, what will it take to get this program back among the nation's elite?

A: In college, if you can recruit well for a few years, you've got a chance. But there is a greater disparity between the good teams and the bad teams in college football than there is in the pros. In college, you have to rebuild the entire program. We've got some good kids to build around. But the key is you have to have a critical mass of good players who believe in what you're doing. Then the other guys don't fit in if they don't conform. That is what you need.

Q: What will you be thinking about before Saturday's opener?

A: I want to do well for the people here. There are great people in this state and they have been very supportive. I want to do good things for them. I want to give them what they want. And I'm sure we're going to go through some frustrating times trying to get there. But things that are worth accomplishing don't come easy – and I don't expect this to come easy.

1 comment:

Sharp said...

You know, I was watching the TV series of "Friday Night Lights" (which is fantastic by the way - even better than the movie) and they show a lot of this culture of all-or-nothing fan expectations that Saban talks about. I think of him sometimes when I watch that show. If the minimum standard for everyday life is always being the defending champions, how in the world do you define excellence? There's no place to go but down.