As a Mom and owner of a business, I don’t have a lot of free time, so I choose my free-time activities wisely. Last Saturday, I decided to enjoy some college football. Since I only watch two teams play, TCU and Alabama, I decided to watch the Ole Miss versus Alabama game, which is usually pretty entertaining. This game, however, became very one-sided with Alabama defeating Ole Miss 66 to 3. It was a little embarrassing for Ole Miss. As I watched the game unfold, I started to wonder how a team, like Crimson Tide, can be so powerful. With that direction, I researched Nick Saban, Alabama’s coach since 2007. He not only has taken Alabama to the BCS National Championship three times and won the College Football Playoffs in 2015 but he also coached LSU to win the BCS National Championship in 2003. He is the only coach in history to win a national championship game with two different FBS schools. He is known as the greatest college football coach of all time.
As I read about and researched Nick Saban, I learned a lot about his “process” as a coach that has allowed his team to earn such amazing records over the years. His process is described as breaking down difficult situations into manageable pieces. He believes that keeping your eyes on the past and future creates anxiety and discomfort. Therefore, he coaches his players to work one play at a time instead of focusing on the final score or even dwelling on previous mistakes. His lesson to his players has been to focus on the journey and not the destination and doing the right thing the right way all the time.
While I was reading about Saban and his coaching techniques, Hebrews 12:1-6 stood out in my mind. Don’t they say football is second to religion? Well as crazy as it sounds, I imagined standing on the field with Nick Saban and his team and witnessing him coach his team, encouraging them and pushing them to another victory. Saban is a devout Roman Catholic and attends mass before every game. Saban and his wife provided over $1 million in support for the new Saban Catholic Student Center built on the Tuscaloosa campus, capable of holding the 3,000 Catholic students in attendance at University of Alabama. In one of his interviews, he stated “it’s the pain of discipline or the pain of disappointment, because you’re always sort of disappointed if you don’t have discipline to do the things you need to do. But I also define discipline for our players, our team and the people in our organization, which I don’t know that sometimes people really truly understand. Discipline is all about: Here’s something that I know I’m supposed to do, that I really don’t want to do. Can you make yourself do it? Then over here, there’s something that you know you’re not supposed to do, but you want to do it, can you keep yourself from it? Staying on that straight and narrow path is the key to discipline and morality. So if you can stay in that moral path, I think you make very good choices and decisions and will have a much better chance in your life of making the kind of choices that will help you be successful and give you the positive self-gratification that you need to have the confidence to do the type of things you’re capable of doing.” Hebrews 12 says to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and how we should run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Just as Saban says, if we can stay on the moral path and make good decisions then we have the strength to do the right thing. It’s so easy to imagine the drive and perseverance that the players have under Saban’s coaching to run every play, one at a time.
Another focus of Nick Saban is to surround yourself with the right people. Not only has he chosen some of the best players during recruiting time, but he also surrounds himself with strong and positive reinforcements as assistant coaches and trainers. Since I can tie just about everything in life to football, I can make similar associations with the Bible. Saban’s success in coaching comes from working with the right players and the right team of support. As Christians, we should surround ourselves with those who will reinforce our faith and our purpose. As Hebrews 12 mentions surrounding ourselves with a great cloud of witnesses, we should look to those who went before us as an example to live by. We read about Abraham, Noah, and Moses who were considered righteous men and strong in their faith, and who did as God commanded. Saban told EWTN in an interview, “I don’t think there’s any question about the fact that character, moral development are all a part of leadership. I look at it as, we always say, ‘God have mercy,’ but that mercy is not a well. It’s not a cistern. It’s a channel that should run through us to other people. That’s part of what we try to do for our players, so they have a chance to be more successful in life.” I am by no means comparing Nick Saban to Jesus….even though some Alabama fans may, but I am illustrating how one man’s purpose and mission for his team, with a God-filled heart, can make a difference to so many people. Numerous interviews with students and several articles about the team mention how the Catholic faith has flourished in Tuscaloosa since Nick Saban arrived and also how influential he has been to his players and their lives. His commitment resonates through his actions. What a great modern-day example of perseverance and determination.