Leadership Secrets of Alabama Coach Nick Saban

I’ve just finished reading John Talty’s book, The Leadership Secrets of Nick Saban: How Alabama’s Coach Became the Greatest Ever. When I finish a book, I’m in the habit of typing up what I’d call golden lines. What follows below are some of the lines from the book that resonated with me.

I came to reading this book after starting on a path years ago of trying to learn everything I could about New England Patriot Coach Bill Belichick. Some of my reading and viewing stops have included reading Benedict’s The Dynasty, Demasio’s Parcells: A Football Life, O’Connor’s Belichick, Wickersham’s It’s Better to be Feared, Lombardi’s Gridiron Genius, and watching the documentary films Belichick & Saban: The Art of Coaching and ESPN’s The Two Bills. I enjoyed each of the books and films in that list.

Here are some of the lines I picked out from the book:

  • “Your toughness is a direct reflection of your conditioning.”
  • “It’s difficult to overstate just how important that first year is to establish a culture after taking over an organization.”
  • From Villanova’s Jay Wright on the importance of team building: “We were getting good players, but I don’t think I did a good job of structuring our roster.”
  • On when to start working with players on their leadership skills: “Saban worked to develop players like Julio Jones and Mark Barron into leaders the moment they arrived on campus. He believes you can’t wait until a player is a junior or senior to start preparing him to be a leader.”
  • I always enjoy reading about how coaches work together: “The daily meetings Kiffin was required to attend at 7:30 am frustrated him, as did the regimented approach Saban preferred. Kiffin was more of a freethinker, an artist whose work was beautiful play calls. Ken Smithmier, the president of P3 insights, identified Kiffin as a people (intrinsic) dominant person while Saban was a vision (systemic) dominant person…Kiffin fell under the fast domain and preferred intuitive, fast decision-making while Saban as a slow thinker wanted a more deliberate approach.”
  • Try to erase negative self talk: “In basic terms, negative self-talk could be self-defeating and had a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
  • It’s easier to get a commitment from the players and staff if the head coach is all in: “He’s never taken a day off, never missed a second of a meeting, never missed a second of practice. -Keaton Anderson on Saban.”
  • “Saban would guide ‘what if’ meetings in the lead-up to games where his staff could throw out scenarios that could pop up and then debate what they should do.”
  • What players should play in the game? “Saban is very open about the fact that he’d play a well-prepared yet less talented player than a talented player who hasn’t put in the work to learn the playbook.”
  • “You never want to waste a failing.” And it’s companion phrase: “So what? Now what?” We failed; now what are we going to do about it? What’s the plan?
  • Parcells on truth telling: “You have to tell them the truth about their performance, you have to tell it to them face-to-face, and you have to tell it to them over and over again.”
  • “You can’t just do a one-off message; it has to be reinforced.”
  • “He lays out very clear job responsibilities and expectations for everyone in the organization, a skill he traces back to his time working for Belichick in Cleveland.”
  • Bears coach Matt Eberflus on Saban: “I’ve learned to define roles for everybody. This is what Coach Saban did for coaches. For each individual player on a given play, (they know) what their role is. Not only in terms of execution, but what it takes mentally and physically how we’re going to play the game.

After finishing up this book, I’ve downloaded a sample onto my Kindle of Phil Savage and Ray Glier’s 4th and Goal Everyday: Alabama’s Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.