TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even though the resume of University of Alabama coach Nick Saban is as impressive as anyone’s in college football history, and he has both the status and impressive ring collection that go with it, he still serves as one of his own assistant coaches.
Ever practice, Saban runs the defensive backs through drills and it’s not just for show. He’s very much a secondary coach for the Crimson Tide along with second-year assistant Derrick Ansley.
On Thursday evening, during his final press conference before Alabama’s A-Day scrimmage that conclude spring workouts, Saban was asked about why continues to do on a daily basis what nearly every other head coach in college or pro football does not.
His answer was not a short one.
“When I was growing up in West Virginia, there was no diagnosis for attention deficit,” said Saban, “so I probably have it. If I’m not doing something, I’m not busy, I’m shaking my leg – Terry punches me in church for shaking my leg, she punches me in church because when I’m standing up I’m rocking like this – so I would probably say that I have some deficit in some way that has never been diagnosed.
“It’s a way that I keep myself busy. It’s a way that I feel like I contribute to help the players.”
But Saban’s explanation wasn’t done. He then told about when he was an assistant coach at Michigan State and would visit Buddy Ryan, the architect of the famous 46 defense, and the Chicago Bears in the 1980s.
“He became a friend,” continued Saban, “and when he became a head coach, we played him when I was in Cleveland with the Browns, when I was a defensive coordinator for Bill Belichick, and he was having a bad season and everyone thought he was going to get fired, and it was toward the end of the season. I went out and talked with him during pregame and I said, ‘Buddy, what’s the biggest difference between being a head coach and being an assistant?’
“He said, ‘I was always someone’s best assistant,’ and he didn’t say that in an arrogant way. And he said, ‘I was not my best assistant.’
“What I learned from that is, you know he was the best defensive coordinator in the history of ball, probably, and the best defense in the NFL, in the history of ball, and gave up the fewest points. So if you become a head coach why wouldn’t you contribute in the area that you have the most expertise, rather than let someone else or allow someone else to do it?”
Consequently, Saban has always been one of his own secondary coaches, sharing the daily duties with an assistant coach like Kirby Smart or Jeremy Pruitt, and even did so with the Miami Dolphins.
“I think the way ball is now it’s hard just to have just one secondary coach,” Saban said. “You need to split up a lot. We can only have a limited number of coaches. We don’t have two secondary coaches. For me to be somebody’s GA in the secondary is probably helpful.
“I enjoy it with the players, I enjoy the relationships — I enjoy the relationships with all of the players, but I don’t root for the DBs, I look at everything objectively from a team standpoint. I want us to do well on offense as well as defense. But I feel like I can make the best contribution to the team in that area, on defense and on special teams, so that’s where I try and spend most of my time.”
He wrapped up by describing what may be the biggest difference with Alabama’s other iconic football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, who’s legendary coaching tower still stands over the Crimson Tide practice fields as a tribute.
“I enjoy it. I like it,” he said. “I think I’d be bored to death, and I’m not criticizing anybody who ever stood in a tower, but I would have a hard time getting through practice that way.”
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