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Thursday, August 13, 2009
Kicking it with Alabama's Nick Saban, Part II

By staff

Posted by's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Here's the second part of my Q&A with Alabama coach Nick Saban.

It's obvious in listening to him talk about his father, Nick Sr., what a huge influence he was on the younger Saban's life and why he is the way he is today.

The values the coach preaches in his program -- self-determination, being accountable, being disciplined, doing a day's work for a day's pay -- come straight from his father.

  Marvin Gentry/US Presswire
  As a kid growing up, Nick Saban was an Alabama football fan.

Saban's father died in 1973 of a heart attack. He was only 46. Saban was just starting his coaching career at the time as a graduate assistant on the Kent State staff under Don James.

How often do you find yourself thinking about your father and the influence he had on your life?

Nick Saban: He was a big influence on a lot of people's lives because he started Pop Warner football in our area [Fairmont, W. Va.]. He bought a school bus and went and picked up kids. Everybody lived in a coal mining town, so we hitch-hiked about every place we went. All of us did. We didn't have cars. You kind of knew who was going to go by. It was a rural area. You knew who would pick you up and who wouldn't. A lot of kids didn't participate because they couldn't get to practice. There are a lot of things I took from my dad -- work ethic, responsibility, compassion for other people. The lessons I learned working at that Gulf service station that my dad owned ... I still relay a lot of those lessons to our players now.

What were some of the most enduring lessons?

NS: I was working at the station when I was about 15 years old. I remember being in a bad mood because I had a fight with my girlfriend, and we broke up. So I wasn't treating the customers very well and talked back to a customer. In those days, everything was full service. You cleaned the windows, checked the oil, put the gas in, said 'please' and 'thank you,' got the change and gave it back to them. I was a little curt that day. My dad said, 'Your mom told me you broke up with your girlfriend. You're a little upset about that?' I said, 'Yeah, I'm a little upset about that.' He said, 'Let me just tell you this: When you let one bad thing that happens to you affect other things, sometimes you create more negative consequences than you like. You're about ready to cause a couple more. You don't have a girlfriend right now. Pretty soon, you're not going to have a job, because I'm going to fire you. And if I fire you, I'm going to whip your ass.' It was that kind of stuff from him all the time.

What about your well-chronicled battles with the media and the way you're portrayed in some circles. Is there a facade about you that's tough to crack, and do you have a better sense of humor than you're given credit for?

NS: My wife [Terry] probably characterizes it the best. I was kind of a shy kid, really. I got a D in Music because I wouldn't stand in front of the class when I was in the eighth grade and sing. It was basketball season. I remember that much. I was at Monongah Junior High. My dad said, 'Turn your basketball uniform in. If you're not going to get an education, you're not going to have any better life than what everybody else around here has. You're going to end up working in the coal mine.' He put me in the car, took me down to the mine and said, 'This is where you're going to end up if you don't go to college. I didn't go to college, and this is where you're going to end up. You need to make a decision about whether you want to be here or someplace else.'

How did you get over that shyness?

NS: I had problems getting up in front of people and giving speeches when I was young. My wife is just the opposite. She probably brought it out in me to be a little more outgoing. She was a speech major and was on the debate team. When I first became a head coach, I had a lot of anxiety in front of the press and media, always afraid I was going to say the wrong thing and created an image for myself that was far different than what I really was. And even though I've changed a little bit over time -- actually, I've changed a lot over time in that regard -- I'm much more relaxed and don't feel that way at all anymore and haven't probably since I went to LSU. But every opportunity to still say that I'm that way, somebody out there is willing to do so. That's just the way it is. Now I'm responsible for that, so I'm not blaming anybody.

But be honest. In press conference settings when you're wanting to send a message to your team or the fans, you'll occasionally script a confrontation with a media member to get your point across, won't you?

NS: [Smiling] That's true. I can't deny that.

Is Terry your biggest critic now?

NS: She's very supportive and has been very helpful through the years in a lot of ways. It's a way of life in college, and she buys into that. She's with it and she's with me on everything we do. Now she gets onto me about a lot of things, even sometimes when I suspend players or whatever. She might say, 'Those guys are seniors. They're playing in their last game. How could you do that to their family?' She sort of puts things in perspective in a different way, with a little bit more of a human touch. It's a good balance for me.

I'm sure you've been asked hundreds of questions about Bear Bryant. What were your impressions of him as a kid, and what impact did he have on you as a young coach?

NS: When I was coming up, it was different. There weren't 15 games every week on TV. The media coverage was more local in nature. It wasn't as national. There wasn't an ESPN, so I didn't see a lot of Alabama games. But I had a tremendous amount of respect for him and one of the first things I did when I became a coach was to read his book 'Ain't Nothin' But a Winner.' That had a tremendous impact on me, more so than watching him or his teams as a kid, because I just wasn't exposed to that growing up.

What were your earliest memories of Alabama football?

NS: I remember I was No. 12 when I played because Joe Namath was No. 12, and that started when he played here. I always liked Alabama. You know how you have those teams when you're a kid and there are some teams you like and there's no rhyme or reason for it other than the image and prestige that particular place has ... I always liked Alabama.

Speaking of Namath, how often do you hear from the pillars of the Alabama program like a Namath, Ozzie Newsome, Lee Roy Jordan, some of those guys?

NS: I see them on occasion when we have outings. They're supportive. They know they're a part of the program, but there's not one of them that ever does anything to try and tell you how to do what you're doing, like a lot people might think. They're supportive. They went to be helpful. They love their school, but they don't try to tell you how to do your job.

Have you ever been around a competitor quite like Julio Jones, who competes as hard in conditioning runs as he does in the fourth quarter of the SEC championship game?

NS: He is a great, great competitor, but in the right way. Some guys are great competitors because of themselves. He's a great competitor because he wants to do everything he can to help his team win and be successful. He has a lot of toughness, competes with a lot of toughness, plays hard, does everything he's supposed to do and does it right and wants to please you as a coach. I don't know what else to say about him from that standpoint, and I've only been around a few like that.

Is there less cheating in recruiting now than there was 10 years ago?

NS: I don't know anybody that's cheating in recruiting. I don't see it. I didn't see it at LSU. There were occasions when you thought that maybe something happened, but nothing that was obvious.

If you're not pushing the envelope in recruiting, you're probably not going to be a very good recruiter, though, are you?

NS: That's right. The things that everybody talks about now are more technical in nature, illegal phone calls, bumps, those kind of things. In the old days, the extra benefits were what everybody was concerned about, giving a guy money, giving him a job where he didn't have to work. I honestly don't see those things happening now.

Given what happened with Andre Smith and the agent situation last season prior to the Sugar Bowl, what can be done to eliminate those problems in the future?

NS: I think we miss the target, just like what happened to Smitty [Smith]. We suspended him for the bowl game, and it had tremendous consequences for not only Smitty, but for our whole team. Not that we would have won the game. I'm taking nothing away from Utah, but it was a tremendous distraction. It affected the whole team. Every kid got penalized for that. But the guy who did it wrong, the guy who pulled Smitty in ... he didn't get anything. [Saban's voice rising]. That will go away as soon as they prosecute those people, because they won't be able to collect fees if they get suspended as agents. They won't do the wrong thing anymore. We're attacking the problem from the wrong angle, if you ask me.