Nick Saban demands perfection. His steadfast commitment to excellence takes no off days. The single-minded devotion has yielded historic success and launched him into rarified coaching company.
Saban has won national championships with Alabama in four of the last seven seasons after leading LSU to one. His brilliance on the big stage is easy to recognize. But what he does on the small stage is just as important as what he does under the sport’s brightest spotlight.
On Saturday, ESPN cameras captured Saban eviscerating Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin on the sidelines in the final minute of a 38-10 victory over Western Kentucky. It was not an argument but rather an “ass-chewing,” according to the one doing the masticating.
Saban is the top dog in college football. Seeing him bite in addition to bark provides a window into his tactics. It would be easy for Alabama to rest on its laurels and coast. Saban understands this is not in his team’s best interest and is planting seeds of motivation, hoping it yields a plentiful crop this Saturday against a game Ole Miss squad in Oxford.
His method is madness — the kind that comes by never being satisfied.
“We need to get more players that can play winning football,” Saban told the media after the Tide trounced USC by 46 points in Week 1.
A four-touchdown blowout of the Hilltoppers left him similarly nonplussed.
“We have lots of work to do,” he said. “I didn’t think we prepared very well for this game. I don’t think we respected the team we played. Like I said before, when you’re arrogant, it makes you complacent. It creates a blatant disregard for doing things right. If we don’t start doing things right, we’re not going to have the kind of success that we’re capable of.”
Alabama remains atop both polls and has allowed one touchdown through two games (which came in mop-up time). Its defense remains scary. Freshman Jalen Hurts has looked more than competent under center. To the outside world, they aren’t displaying any noticeable cracks in the foundation.
Saban, however, is playing his role as persnickety building inspector, trying to identify problems that may present themselves in the future. He has to dig deeper to find them than Butch Jones at Tennessee, Kirby Smart at Georgia or Dabo Swinney at Clemson. All three of those national title contenders have survived scares from inferior opponents. Those close calls are evidence seemingly small things can become big things at the most inopportune time.
Kiffin’s posterior was the meal over the weekend. One has to assume there will be more courses at practice today. The top dog’s bark has bite. More often than not, that results in Alabama’s opponents getting chewed up. If that results in a few sore behinds in-house, the reward is more than worth the pain.