How Does Nick Saban Do It?

Fortune magazine

Fortune magazine


There’s an interesting article in the September 24, 2012 Fortune magazine, “Leadership Lessons from Nick Saban” by Brian O’Keefe, a former Birmingham resident who spent time earlier this year inside the Saban bubble in Tuscaloosa. I also read a book by Saban himself, How Good Do You Want to Be?

I lived in Tuscaloosa for three years, while studying the law.  My last season there was one of the 14 national championships for the Alabama football team, also known as the Crimson Tide.

Saban’s book follows the model of the business leader biography that is part biography and part motivation. My favorite books in this genre are by the two Teds.  Ted Leonsis’ is called The Business of Happiness, and Ted Turner’s most recent biography called Call Me Ted.  I highly recommend both books.

Saban’s book is not his best effort.  It was written in 2004, right after he coached L.S.U. to a national championship.  After being in Tuscaloosa for six years and coaching for nearly 40, he’s at the top of his game now.  I think a book after the LSU period was premature, hopefully he will write another book before he retires.

The Fortune article examines the extremely business-like way that Saban runs his football program and his life.200px-Nick_Saban_09_Practice

“If Saban were running a company instead of a football program, he’d be hailed as an elite manager.”

Alabama’s recent football success is linked to Saban’s focus on process, his detailed program for coaches and players and detailed attention to every element of the team.  He is an extreme micro manager, but he’s able to do it because he is so organized, moves so quickly, and never get tired even though he’s 60 now.

Saban’s success at Alabama is measured in wins, revenue, and player academic success.  Last year the Alabama athletic department brought in $124.5 million, mostly from football, and kept expenses to $105.1 million.  That’s a profit of $19.4 million.  Before Saban arrived the revenue was $67.7 million.  Saban’s take by the way averages $5.6 million each year, the total package.

On the academic side, the Fortune article makes it look like Saban’s extreme focus extends to his player’s academic success.  For the last 3 years the graduation rate of Alabama players has been second in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), only behind Vanderbilt University.

But there are some strong feelings about Nick Saban.  I like his style but he is not universally popular.  The Fortune article is almost entirely complimentary, but he angered many people at LSU when he left to briefly coach in the National Football League.  What else bothers people – I’m not sure.  He certainly comes across as being more intense than Alabama’s coach when I was in Tuscaloosa, Gene Stallings.  Coach Stallings was also a winning coach but he was reportedly kinder than Saban.

There are some interesting takeaways from Saban’s book.  I particularly enjoyed the description of his upbringing in West Virginia, helping his parents run Saban’s Service Station and Dairy Queen, right in front of the family home, open from 6 a.m. to midnight.  The book also includes Saban’s 14 Leadership Lessons.

Whatever happens on January 7th, the Alabama Crimson Tide has had a great football season, and Nick Saban certainly deserves some of the credit.  Roll Tide Roll!


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2 Responses to How Does Nick Saban Do It?

  1. Be sure to listen to Coach Saban’s press conference in Miami yesterday, linked here:

  2. Well I see congratulations are in order for the Tide and Coach Saban. 3rd BCS title in 4 years is quite an accomplishment. Clearly he and his management style is a good match for Alabama and there are lessons to be learned from him. What will be interesting is to see how/if he maintains this level of success.

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