- Acquire the best talent that you can. From 2011 to 2017 Saban had the #1 recruiting class, except 2015 when his recruits were #2. This is a theme at the highest achieving organizations.
- Know your people and their potential. Saban coaches practices on the field, not from a tower above the field. He gets to know his players, strengths, weaknesses, areas to improve. Staples quotes Saban: “You’re there to see the flaws. You’re a part of quality control.”
- Maximize the value of training. Training is more than preparation. On the practice field Saban sees fine details, makes corrections, and develops insights that help him with the “big picture” and strategies.
- Adapt quickly to change. To match up better with the new look from high-tempo run-pass-option teams, Saban recruited lighter, quicker defenders. “When the NCAA banned head coaches . . . from visiting high schools to watch practice during the spring evaluation period, Saban became one of the first coaches to use video conferencing to talk to recruits” (p. 37).
- Work through adverse events not under your control. Alabama had a difficult year with many injuries but managed to win all but one game during the regular season.
- Try to affect outcomes not under your control. Alabama was not a lock to be in the national championship playoffs. Saban “called in to ESPN” and made the case for his team. Did it make a difference? Perhaps. Perhaps not – but he spoke up on behalf of his people. He tried.
- Embrace resiliency. After the championship game, Saban told his players, “I hope you take something from this game and the resiliency that you showed in this game helps you be more successful in life” (p. 39).
- Analyze, be prepared, be decisive. At halftime trailing 13-0, Saban replaced his starting quarterback Jalen Hurts (who had led Alabama to a 25-2 record) with an 18 year-old backup. The decision changed the game and was called “a drastic – or desperate move” by many. But Saban always had this as an option. It wasn’t drastic or desperate. It was calculated, planned for, and always an option. The halftime adjustment was for an offense with more passing. He knew Tua Tagovailoa was the better passer.
- Grow and support your people. Many of Saban’s assistants have moved on to leadership positions in football. In the championship game Saban faced Kirby Smart who “had helped Saban win four national titles as Alabama’s defensive coordinator” (p.39).
- Stay hungry for success. “I’m never satisfied. My greatest fear professionally is that we might lose the next game . . . I hate the feeling you have when you lose, but I also hate the feeling that you have when you didn’t do a good job for your players.”
I have often found leadership and life lessons in sports stories and occasionally have made these the subjects of blogs. Here are several: Urban Meyer, Carli Lloyd, Coach K, Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and Champ Bailey.
Staples, A. (2018, January 15). “It takes Tua.” Sports Illustrated, 128(1), 32-39.
© John Ballard, PhD, 2018. All rights reserved.
Author of Decoding the Workplace, BEST CAREER BOOK Next Generation Indie Book Awards 2016.
"Decoding the Workplace: 50 Keys to Understanding People in Organizations is as informed and informative a read as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking. . . Decoding the Workplace should be considered critically important reading for anyone working in a corporate environment." —Midwest Book Review