With three national championships in the last four years, Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban is at the absolute pinnacle of the college coaching profession. As a matter of fact, there’s nobody that even approaches his stature in the sport, which is ironic because many of us love to goad the man about his height. However, when it comes to winning football games and ultimately championships, the man is an absolute giant.
That’s why it seems so odd to us that a man who has enjoyed–or perhaps a more appropriate word is experienced–so much success in his life appears so uneasy. The kind of personal satisfaction that I get when I pen something that receives critical praise and does solid traffic–or that most anybody feels from doing their job well–seems lost on Saban, and that piques our curiosity.
Yet, Nick Saban has erected a wall shielding the general public from having any sight line into what actually drives the man who sits atop college football. A recent GQ profile by Warren St. John comes as close to exposing any depth beneath the hardass veneer as we’ve ever been, but ultimately, at the end, we’re still not sure who (or what) Nick Saban is.
And that’s not to take anything away from St. John. He did as well as anybody could considering the assignment: attempting to humanize a man that might be less human than anybody in sports.
His profile was detailed and insightful, and he probably did better to explain away Nick Saban’s robotic tendencies than anybody else could have. But, as I read the last few lines, I still wasn’t convinced that Saban doesn’t run on battery.
That’s because for as hard as Warren St. John tried, he still only really got to see the side of Nick Saban that Nick Saban wanted him to see. So, while social awkwardness and a father who was a perfectionist may explain away some of his compulsive behaviors as a coach, it doesn’t really offer anything to the portrait St. John was trying to paint of the man.
I guess the general premise of the piece was to say that Nick Saban wasn’t nearly as complicated as some people think, but I didn’t exactly realize that people thought Saban was complicated in the first place. He can be mysterious at times, but that’s not necessarily the mark of a complicated man.
Nick Saban–at least in my eyes–has always come across as someone with a singular focus on getting better–not just winning games, but continuously striving for better with a firm grasp on the reality that perfection will never truly be attained. That’s pretty simple ideology.
It’s absolutely insane, but it’s simple.
It’s all about the process, and because of that linear train of thought, Nick Saban’s entire professional life is based around simplicity. He has sole discretion over what he deems process-worthy and what he doesn’t, and while he may have personal aspirations outside of the process, he walls them off into their own private living quarters inside his brain to keep them from interfering with the process itself.
That’s his right. He has no obligation to get teary-eyed when GQ magazine shows up on his doorstep trying to ask questions about what makes him tick.
And while some people may take exception to that, thinking that because he’s a very public figure he is somehow obligated to share his life with us like so many other celebrities seem eager to do, I find it perfectly acceptable if not refreshing. I’m not entirely convinced that he has a real life outside of football, but if he does and he wants to keep that separate, by all means, he should.
Then again, I love watching great football, and you can say whatever you want to about Nick Saban and the robotic process by which he lives his professional life, but it produces some damn good football.
So, while I appreciate Warren St. John’s wonderfully written piece on Saban and I appreciate taking on some of the things we’ve either misinterpreted or blatantly mythologized in regards to Nick Saban, he didn’t really do the one thing he jokingly eluded to trying to accomplish with his piece. He didn’t actually prove to anybody that Nick Saban is a man with human blood coursing through his human veins.
He just kind of made note of the fact that he’s simple, and that he was programmed to like the Rolling Stones.
In other words, we’re still pretty sure he’s a robot. And that’s okay.