Tuesday, January 08, 2013

A glimpse into what makes Nick Saban a champion (and why the rest of us aren't)

Without a playoff between conference winners, college football will never have an actual champion, but there's no doubt that Alabama's Nick Saban is one of the sport's best coaches. His teams have won three of the last four BCS national titles.

Here's a glimpse into what makes him -- and his teams -- so good:
The other day, the coach told a story about his father that drove him to something resembling actual emotion. When he was 11, he said, he started working at his father's service station in West Virginia, a full-service joint with a Dairy Queen attached to it; he cleaned windows, he checked oil, he gauged the tires, and he washed cars. He especially hated the blue and the black ones, because if his dad found a single streak, he'd make him start over again.

"That sort of perfectionist type of attitude that my parents instilled in me," he said, "that's probably still the foundation of the program we have right now."

[. . .]

This morning, in the conference room of the hotel where I'm staying, I went to a press conference where Saban, summoning a photograph smile, posed with four separate national championship trophies — and if ever there is proof of the laggardness of college football's present system, it's that we still need four separate trophies — and in the midst of it, someone asked Saban a simple question: Why? In other words, why keep doing this, and why keep striving, and why not pull a Spurrier and slip off to the golf course on some August afternoon during a two-a-days and delegate to one's coaching staff? Like, why so uptight, man? And Saban sort of stared down the questioner for a second, and then he said this: "Why do you do what you do? Are you driven to be the best at what you do?"

And as Saban's eyes bored into the deepest recesses of the reporter's conscience, he replied, "Yes, sir."
What else could he say?

And here's a bit that illustrates the difference between those who achieve greatness and the rest of us:
From there, Saban wound into a story that centered on an old Martin Luther King sermon about a shoeshine man who took pride in his work, and he said something about being the best street sweeper you could be, and I think we got a little glimpse of why Saban is one of the best living-room recruiters who ever blew through the South. I hurried back toward my hotel room, all fired up to be the best damned street sweeper I could be, just as soon as I stopped at Starbucks and checked Twitter and Facebook and watched a few minutes of CNN and ESPN and stared out at the pool seven stories below my window and let another hour of my life pass me by without accomplishing much of anything except the completion of this sentence.
So, at what are you driven to be the best?