LEXINGTON, Ky. — Nick Saban and Mark Stoops will square off Saturday, and Stoops told a funny story during his Monday press conference about how he once turned down the now Alabama coach on a recruiting visit invitation.
Saban was the defensive backs coach at Michigan State and Stoops was prepping at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio. His older brothers, Bob and Mike, were already playing at Iowa and Mark narrowed his visits to Iowa and Ohio State.
That meant telling Saban he was canceling his visit to Michigan State.
“That phone call didn’t go very well,” Stoops said with a laugh. “And I was really young and naïve and had no clue. I knew I wasn’t a great player or anything like that, but I couldn’t believe — he made it very difficult for me, and I remember getting off the phone and saying, ‘Wow.’ He was very persuasive and very good.”
And now Stoops will bring his Kentucky team to face Saban’s top-ranked Crimson Tide at 7 p.m. Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Saban impressed Stoops back in high school, and that’s only grown since.
“I admire an awful lot about Coach Saban,” Stoops said. “It’s hard to define all those things, but anybody that’s in this business – this coaching profession is built on respect, and it starts there.”
The Saban and Stoops connection didn’t end with Mark canceling his visit to Michigan State.
Stoops told another story about his Uncle Bob, not brother Bob who coaches Oklahoma, and Saban were at a restaurant one spring day. Bob was coaching at a Youngstown school and Saban was recruiting.
“Coach will tell the story better than me, but they were talking Xs and Os and they were so wrapped up in the Xs and Os that they had no idea somebody came in and robbed the place at gunpoint,” Stoops said. “I always thought my uncle was full of it. You know, he’s a little crazy. I said, ‘You’re exaggerating this story.’ But I heard coach Saban say it on one of his shows that he was on.”
Here’s a video of Saban talking about the strange encounter.
Saban’s squad is almost a five-touchdown favorite over Stoops’ on Saturday, but the stories leading up to the game haven’t disappointed so far.
Maybe when they meet at midfield before the game, Stoops will bring up the story of calling Saban to say he wouldn’t be visiting Michigan State.
“I’m sure he’s recruited a few more talented football players since then,” Stoops said.