What motivates Nick Saban, the best coach in college football

By Randy Belk
Nov. 16, 2016

For years I have been hearing the pundits on radio and tv saying they know what motivates Nick Saban. When Nick was hired by Alabama in 2007 many were saying that Nick loves building teams and he will leave in 5 or 6 years to go on to his next building project. Others said that Coach Saban will go back to the NFL to shake the demons from what they call his only failure as a coach with the Miami Dolphins. Others say every year that he is ready to retire and ride off into the sunset. The national media does not seem to know what motivates Coach Saban. But one thing most will agree on is that Nick Saban is the best coach in college football and can be debated as the best of all time. What is it that motivates Coach Saban now that makes him the best coach in college football?

One of the things that motivates Coach Saban is coaching college kids. In an article written by Chris Vannini for coachingsearch.com back in 2013, Nick was quoted with a couple of statements that gives us more insight on Saban's motivation. Nick was quoted as saying, “I’m all about being as good as you can be, and I’m all about trying to help the players be all they can be”. Coach Saban went on to say “I get a lot of positive self-gratification from seeing people that you affect, that you set an example for, that you provide leadership for that go on and have success and go on and have more success because of it.” Coaching and teaching college kids is a huge motivation factor in him choosing to come back to college football after a two year stint with the Miami Dolphins in 2005 and 2006. When Terry Saban told Alabama athletic director Mal Moore ten years ago that her heart and Nick's heart was in college football, Mal was not going to leave until he got his coach. I don't see coaching in the NFL again as a motivational factor for Nick. 

One of the things we often heard early on in Nick's career at Alabama is that he does not like to stay at one place very long. They were basing that on his track record as a coach up to that point. Nick got his first head coaching job at Toledo in 1990. After one successful year at Toledo Nick chose to accept the job as defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns coached by Bill Belichick. Coach Saban spent four years with the Browns. In 1995 he accepted the head coaching job at Michigan State. In 1999 Coach Saban finally led Michigan State out of mediocrity. That year the Spartans went 10-2 and had their best season since 1966. Coach Saban then accepted the job at LSU for the 2000 season. Nick spent spent five years at LSU leading them to a national championship in 2003. Their first since 1958. Then Coach Saban accepted the job for the Miami Dolphins and spent two years there before accepting the job at Alabama in 2007. Many pundits said Nick would be at Alabama four to six years and then move on to his next building project. Many thought building teams and moving on to the next team to build again was Nick Saban's biggest motivation. This is Nick Saban's tenth year at Alabama and there is no sign he is looking for another rebuilding project as a head coach. In fact we often hear Nick Saban say he is too old for that. It appears rebuilding teams is not at the top of Nick Saban's motivation.

Coaching records and personal records do not appear to be the main motivational factor for Nick Saban. He is too busy looking forward to look backward. If you went up to Nick Saban and gave him a list of coaching accomplishments he is closing in on he would not know what they were except for the obvious one the media keeps reminding him about and that is tieing or breaking Bear Bryant's record of six national championships. When asked about his accomplishments Nick says he is too busy focusing on how to get better today. He says maybe after he retires he can reflect back on those things but being the best today is driving him. When Alabama wins a national title I get the sense that he gets the most enjoyment at seeing his players accomplish what they worked so hard for and to see them reach their potential. Then for Coach Saban it is back to work the next day to get ready for the next season. I don't see personal records as a motivation for Coach Saban.

So what seems to be Coach Saban's number one motivational factor now? We have heard Coach Saban say before after he won his first national title at Alabama that for him building a team was easier because he had plenty of experience on building teams into winners, but maintaining excellence at a program was much harder to do. There are so many head winds blowing against programs maintaining excellence year in and year out. So called college football dynasties last for a very short time because of complacency, rules changes, and style of play changes among other things. The longest run of excellence was Florida State coached by Bobby Bowden. From 1987 to 2000 his Seminoles did not finish outside of the top four in the AP Poll. Alabama's current dynasty really got started in 2008 when Alabama went undefeated during the regular season. The Tide got beat by national champion Florida in the SEC title game and also lost to Utah in the Sugar Bowl and finished 6th. Despite Alabama's great run the last nine years the Crimson Tide has finished outside of the top four on three different occasions, 2008, 2010 and 2013 but never outside the top ten during this streak. But four national championships in seven years has not been seen in modern day football and the Tide is closing in on possibly a fifth national title in eight years. This is where we close in on what motivates Coach Saban now.

The thing that seems to motivate Nick Saban the most is keeping his players focused on the process to get better each day and not let complacency get in the way of them being the best they can be. Nick Saban is now motivated and challenged on fighting against the current and fighting complacency that derails many programs. Nick Saban is a better coach now than he was when he came to Alabama ten years ago. Guess what Colin Cowherd? Nick Saban will be a better coach down the road than he is now. That is a scary thought for the rest of college football He is always learning, he is always looking for new ways to help his players succeed. Nick Saban has changed from a smash mouth pro set style football team to a spread option team. He has changed his defense from a big stone wall to more of a faster and sleaker defense to defend spread teams but can still stonewall a power run team like LSU. Nick Saban has employed a psychologist to help him understand what motivates each individual player to help them be the best they can be. Nick Saban has expanded his coaching staff finding former head coaches who are willing to be administrative assistants until a position on the field opens up for them. He has developed the best brain trust by far in all of college football. Nick Saban has started to bring back some of his talented former players to play on the scout team like Blake Sims, John Parker Wilson and Trent Richardson to give his team a more realistic look at who they will be facing the coming week. Nick Saban is the best at finding talent and getting them to play at Alabama. Nick Saban is looking everyday on how to be better and how to help his players to be better. Coach Saban loves when he sees his team fight against complacency and become men and leaders themselves. I am sure Nick Saban gets his rewards when he sees players like Jonathan Allen become men and lead by example and not allow his team mates to become complacent and to carry themselves in a way that brings respect to the team and the University. 

Nick Saban is motivated by sending off each class of players being the best they can be as football players, being the best they can be as individuals and giving them the best opportunity in succeeding in life. Sounds like another former Alabama coach, Bear Bryant.