ATLANTA — It started with a simple question: What is it like to interview for a job on Nick Saban’s coaching staff at Alabama?
Saban assembled one of the top staffs in the country loaded with talented coaches and recruiters. He has the Crimson Tide back in the national championship for the second consecutive season, and the fifth time in eight years.
Alabama won four national titles under Saban and has a shot at a fifth when the team faces Clemson on Monday night in Tampa. Kickoff: about 8 p.m. ET. TV: ESPN.
“I think what has made a difference at Alabama is that he recruits coaches, administrators and people in the personnel department just like he recruits football players,” said Mario Cristobal, who coaches Alabama’s offensive tackles and tight ends. “He’s put together an infrastructure that’s second to none.”
We caught up with some of Alabama’s assistant coaches during media day at the Peach Bowl national semifinal game to get an idea of what it’s like when Saban is interested in hiring you, and the role Saban’s wife, Terry Saban, plays in the process. Here’s what they shared in their own words.
Mario Cristobal, assistant head coach/tackles and tight ends:
“It’s a test.”
I remember getting a phone call, and at first you kind of wonder if it’s a prank call or not. I think the part I appreciate the most is that he was honest and straight forward. At the same time, with all the success that coach and Alabama has had, he was very modest and very humble in his approach.
I think what has made a difference at Alabama is that he recruits coaches, administrators and people in the personnel department just like he recruits football players. He’s put together an infrastructure that’s second to none. I remember him being very detailed. It’s a test. He really wants to find out what he’s getting in a coach. I’ve been lucky enough to work for some really good coaches that kind of put you through it and prepare you for moments like that. I appreciate every moment of it. It’s been nothing but a great experience.
(On that initial phone call, he wanted to know) everything. In his mind, every coach should be strong in all phases of their game and their approach to this job. In his mind, you’re a teacher. How is your ability to teach and coach? Your personality? The type of presence you have in a room and can you carry a room? Can you be impactful in your position room and with the rest of the offense or defense? Are you a good person? Are you going to be a good example for them as a father or as a husband? Is your football IQ high enough to keep up with the ever-changing SEC and college football landscape? He looks at your history and how you’ve recruited. Have you proven yourself as a guy who can go in there and battle, and not just walk in with a big label on your shirt? When it comes to the college industry, it’s really more than just coaching. It encompasses everything that a really good father, leader and ambassador would have. He’s looking for those things in every person he hires.
It’s not wining and dining. There might be a little bit of dining at the end when things are close to being finalized. He makes it really clear that he’s bringing you into a family, and he wants your family to be integrated in the program and the university with our football players.
Mrs. Terry is a critical part of the program. She really is the mother of our football coaches’ families and whatnot. She’s got a big job with the way coach operates and the way schedules are set. All details are taking care of to a tee.
She’s involved with so many things in the community and all kinds of charity and non-profit events. She creates opportunities for the families and the wives to get together especially at something like a bowl game. There are so many things going on, but at the same time, she wants to make sure that everyone is taken care of. She makes the wives feel important for the sacrifices that they make because she’s obviously done it for a while with coach. She understands what comes with this like the amount of time spent away from home, the weeks of recruiting where you don’t get to see your family. She’s so loved by the wives, the players and the coaches because she does a great job of pulling things together.
Derrick Ansley, defensive backs:
“It’s up to you to impress him when you get in front of him.”
I actually interviewed with coach three times – two times as a graduate assistant and one time as his full-time DBs coach. I kind of had an idea of what to expect going in after doing it a couple of times.
He’s very thorough in the interview process. He knows exactly what he’s looking for when he brings a coach in. He doesn’t really bring guys in just to interview them. He’s got a specific purpose of why he’s bringing you in. So anytime you get in front of him, there’s a good chance you got a chance to get the job. It’s on you to impress him when you get in front of him.
(When I moved up from graduate assistant to defensive backs coach) to be honest with you, (the interview was) the exact same. When I came in, I met with him then I interviewed in front of the whole staff. He was asking about the defense we played at Kentucky and Huntington (College). I explained to them what we did, and once we got through that whole process, it was time to break off and meet with each individual position coach so they could get a feel for you. You meet with everybody in the organization because you’re going to have to work side-by-side with everybody.
Mrs. Terry plays a huge role, man. She’s priceless. I’ve been on four or five different staffs now, and understand that the wives’ part of it is the part that needs to be right. The football coaches and the players, we’re going to handle that part of it. But we’re away from our wives so much so the more they can be involved, organized and unified, I think that really helps the whole organization. Mrs. Terry has done that better than any head coach’s wife that I’ve been around. She’s very valuable to the program.
Billy Napier, wide receivers:
“Every day when you’re working, it’s an interview.”
For me, I actually worked for Nick a year prior to being hired. I would say a lot of times that’s the scenario with coaches and people Nick has hired in the past. He likes to bring back people that he’s familiar with and has worked with in the past.
Each and every person on every level of the organization, I would say every day when you’re working, no matter what your role is, it’s an interview.
It was a great experience for me to be here as an analyst in 2011. It’s been an outstanding experience for me to come back as a full-time coach.
(When you make the jump from analyst to on-field coach), he knows you at that point so it’s just a matter of calling you in his office and offering you a job.
Coach is very process oriented. I think if you worked for him in the past, you kind of know the expectations because they’re clearly defined. That’s one of the things I really appreciate about coach. No wining and dining. Just go to work and try to win championships and impact people at the same time.
On Mrs. Terry’s role: I think that’s one of the more impressive things about what’s happening at Alabama. Mrs. Terry does a tremendous job of welcoming the wives and really organizing them throughout the year. She does everything she can do to support you in your transition when you come to Alabama. One of the more impressive things I’ve been through here is the transition of working here and how they take care of you.
It’s a very first-class organization, and she has a lot to do with that. She understands the value of family, and she understands that this profession can be demanding. She puts things in place to help our wives. I know Ali is very grateful for the experience she’s had here. Mrs. Terry is a difference maker in terms of putting things together to help us do what we do throughout the calendar year. First class. Really a tremendous person who cares about people.
Karl Dunbar, defensive line coach:
“It was intense.”
It was intense. Sitting in the room with Coach Saban and him talking football, the only thing that made me comfortable was that we were talking about things that I knew I could do. It wasn’t like I was coming in blind. Just sitting down with Coach Saban and talking football and talking with Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt – because basically the whole staff interviewed me. We talked about my philosophies, his philosophies and what he wanted me to bring to the table so it wasn’t bad at all.
Other guys are asking questions like ‘what do you think about this?’ or ‘what would you do in this situation?’
No (there’s no wining and dining). The coaches took me to dinner afterward if you want to call that wining and dining. The interview was about two hours.
After he hired me, he met with me four hours a day every day teaching me the defense. That’s where I got to know this defense all over again.
It was all through the last part of May. The coaches were all out recruiting so he and I were the only two in the building.
Mrs. Terry is like the mom to everybody. After I met with Nick, I had to go meet with Mrs. Terry. They dropped me off at the house, and me and Mrs. Terry got in the go-karts. We went to the lake and we talked. It was awesome. I had known Mrs. Terry since LSU so it was nice just calming down and seeing her again because she’s a lovely lady.
Brent Key, offensive line (guards and centers):
“It’s a great opportunity each day.”
In this profession, nothing is ever really on your radar. It’s more about being worried about each day and preparing each day for the job you have. Instead of looking forward in the future of what’s going to happen, you have to do the best at the job you have.
But it was obviously a good moment to know that I was going to have a chance to move my family to Tuscaloosa and have a chance to work at a place like this. It’s a really neat thing and it’s a great opportunity each day.
On Mrs. Terry’s role: Oh my gosh. She does an amazing job of just allowing the wives to be comfortable. She keeps them involved because the days are long and the season is long. She does a great job of doing things within the program and keeping them involved in the program. It’s a really, really, really huge blessing to have someone like Mrs. Terry that can really spearhead that part of the organization.