HOOVER, Ala. — It’s the time of year when hundreds of Alabama fans attempt to cram into the Wynfrey Hotel lobby and gawk at their fearless leader. Wednesday is Nick Saban Day at the SEC’s great media get-together, and it marks 10 years since Saban first took the Wynfrey podium as coach of the Crimson Tide.
We decided to look back at his 2007 appearance, which took place four national championships ago. Below is a sampling of questions reporters asked and the (abbreviated) answers Saban provided. Enjoy:
- The type of reception you got today in the lobby, from the day you got off the plane in Alabama, have you gotten used to it yet?
The short answer: “That’s the kind of positive energy that I think is going to be important for us to sustain as a program and will be very beneficial to us becoming successful in the future.”
- Last December you were pretty adamant you wouldn’t be Alabama’s coach. You’re here today. Can you explain why or why not integrity should be an issue for maybe recruits and their families, considering what happened the two weeks before you took the job?
The short answer: “I don’t know that we need to go through all this … When I made those statements they were true. I believed them. It was in the best interest of our team … When the season was over, as we sometimes do, my wife and I sat down and decided that maybe this is something that we should look into. We love college football. It had nothing to do with the Miami Dolphins or the NFL. …
“That’s certainly what we wanted to finish our career doing, and that’s absolutely what we’re going to do. That’s my story and it always will be. Maybe we could have handled it a better way.”
Post-script: The New York Times, ESPN and other prominent outlets have reported several “Saban-to-Texas” stories over the past decade, most recently in 2015. The coach remains firmly planted in Tuscaloosa.
- What were your thoughts when you began to see the reaction of LSU fans to your hiring?
The short answer: “We hope that people understand that it’s our love and passion for college football that brought us back. It was us learning about ourselves going to professional football to find out that we really did belong in college football that took us away from LSU.
“All unfortunate things, because we have a tremendous amount of respect for those people.”
- What do you think the biggest misconception is about Nick Saban?
The short(er) answer: “That’s one you should ask my wife (smiling). She says I have a huge blind spot. I’m sure you’ve heard that one, right? What you think you are compared to how you’re perceived to be. She said mine’s as wide as the Grand Canyon. …
“I think probably the biggest misconception about me is I’ve never adapted very well to the position that I’m in. I’m a country boy who grew up in West Virginia and pumped gas from the time he was 10 years old until he graduated from high school. Made a dollar an hour providing service to other people, cleaning windows, checking oil, changing tires. All right?
“To me I’m still that way, but maybe sometimes I don’t realize that. Sometimes the things I say mean a lot more than what I would intend them to be. Sometimes, because I’m a little bit shy, maybe that’s misinterpreted as not being very outgoing. But I try my best, and I’m getting better and I’m trying to improve every day. Anybody out there that can give me any help, I’d welcome it.”
- I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but pretty much everything you’ve done this offseason has been in the news. Are you looking forward to when the focus will be on players, team, program, that kind of stuff?
The short answer: “Absolutely. I think that’s what it’s all about.”
- Had the Alabama job never opened, would you still be at Miami or would you be coaching college football somewhere else?
The short answer: “Well, I never tried to leave Miami, so I wouldn’t have tried to leave Miami. I would be at Miami right now. I have never tried to leave anywhere. I never tried to leave LSU … I don’t think there were any other opportunities [besides Alabama] that would have created any interest on our part.”
Post-script: Saban later revealed his NFL fortunes could’ve shifted had Drew Brees passed his Miami Dolphins physical in 2006.
- Since you’ve been hired, Alabama fans are talking national championship. Is it realistic for them to expect you to bring one to Alabama?
The short(er) answer: “In 1986, a priest gave me a book called The Road Less Traveled … great book. You ought to read it … I open it up, and the first line in the book says, “Life is difficult.” I’m thinking I got a crazy priest here that gave me this book. Give me a positive attitude, spiritual development book, and the first line is a negative statement.
“But when you read the whole book, it was about if … you think everything is going to be easy, then every time something goes wrong you’re going to have a tremendous amount of frustration and you’re not going to respond to it properly. …
“Hey, we want to win. We want our expectations to be to win. All right? But we want to do the things that we need to do to give our players the best opportunity to do that every day as we make progress toward that.”
Post-script: Alabama won national titles in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015. Saban now has a statue outside Bryant-Denny Stadium.
- You had some player arrests earlier this month. What is the latest there? I don’t think you’ve spoken publicly about that.
The short answer: “Discipline to me is not punishment. Discipline is what can I do to change someone’s behavior to make them better. It’s the same approach that I would use at home with my two children. You know, we can punish them, have no effect on what they do, how they change their behavior. Or if we take something significant away from them that is meaningful, educate them on how to do it correctly, we probably have a chance to get better results.
“We will handle all discipline internally with our team. It will not be a public deal. All right?”
Post-script: Alabama has seen plenty of its players’ legal problems become public. Saban became upset with SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum last year after Finebaum insisted on discussing offensive tackle Cam Robinson’s arrest.
- How aware are you of the backlash that was created in Louisiana when you took the job, and has anything filtered back to you, anything you thought was funny or interesting from the people of Louisiana, anything that was said?
The short answer: “One of our ladies, administrative assistants, who worked for us at LSU who went to a wedding in Baton Rouge got her tires slashed at the wedding. So I think we’re very aware of the backlash; live it every day. …
“We have no ill feelings towards anybody. It was not our intention to create any of this by leaving there. It was not a personal thing to us. It was strictly a professional decision … I mean, there was no opportunity for me to go back to LSU. This was a great opportunity that we had at the University of Alabama. We chose it. It wasn’t personal.”
Post-script: Saban’s Alabama teams have gone 8-3 against LSU, including a 21-0 win to claim the 2011 national championship.
- Is it fair or unfair that every time you see a story on intercollegiate athletics your salary comes up, like the poster child for excess. There’s the national image that Alabama was willing to do anything to buy a national championship, so they paid a guy $4 million a year. How do you look at that?
The short answer: “Well, I actually took a pay cut. Do you put that part in there? You know, I don’t think what I do is about money, to be honest with you.
“I started coaching as a GA and didn’t make anything. Loaded trucks at Roadway Express at night. My wife worked in a registrar’s office so she could go to school part-time and graduate. I worked at Coca-Cola, drove a Coke truck in the summertime so she could go to school full-time in the summertime so I could be a GA so I could coach.
“I don’t feel like I’m totally responsible for where this whole salary thing has gone, and I think that it will continue to go there in the future relative to what happens in the NFL and how the trickle effect comes down into college football.”
Post-script: Saban is currently the highest-paid coach in North American sports. He will make $11.15 million in 2017 after signing a contract extension in May.