HOOVER, Ala. — I don’t believe there’s anyone who’d accuse Alabama coach Nick Saban of being soft outside of, possibly, his grandchildren.
And I doubt there are too many folks outside of, possibly, Auburn who’d suggest Saban would sell his soul for a victory on the football field.
So when the 62-year-old Saban took the initiative to bring up discipline this past week at SEC Media Days, I’d venture to guess most of the 1,300 media members in attendance listened.
Saban began with this:
“I think there’s a greater disparity in the behavioral culture of our young people now when they come to college — some people refer to it as maturity — than maybe there has ever been in the past,” Saban said. “And we keep growing a little bit further and further apart with the older guys on our team versus the younger guys.”
Saban said he and his support staff have programs in place to help the players develop the kinds of thoughts, habits and priorities to be successful.
“Their ability to make good choices and decisions, to control their impulsive behaviors, and do things correctly is something this process helps develop,” Saban said. “And you see on our team with the older guys versus the younger guys that the process really does work. It has a tremendous effect. I mean, we’ve had 89 players compete at Alabama the last six years who had a degree. We had 28 last year in the Sugar Bowl. Two of them had Master’s degrees.”
Saban said it takes longer for some guys to develop the willpower to make the right choices.
“I think discipline is: Over here is something you want to do, and over there is something you know you’re supposed to do, but don’t really want to do,” Saban said. “Can you make yourself do it? And then over here is something you know you’re not really supposed to do, but you really want to do it. Can you keep yourself from “Well, controlling these impulsive behaviors is a little bit different for all of us now at our age and maturity level, versus when we were 17 and 18 years old,” he said. “So my point is we need to help develop this process.
“And it’s developed off the field. Just like if we redshirt a player because he lacks strength, where is that strength developed? Off the field. Discipline is also developed off the field.”
I don’t know what prompted Saban to take on this subject last week. He did so in his opening remarks to the media, even before a question was asked.
I’m guessing it had to do with criticism Saban and his staff might occasionally receive, suggesting that the Crimson Tide are lax about discipline issues.
Saban made two points on the subject that jumped out at me:
1. “I know that many of you have children, especially adolescents, and sometimes these adolescents disappoint us,” Saban said.
“How do we respond to that? When you have a family, and someone in your family disappoints you, we certainly can’t kick them out of the family. I think we have to try to support them, teach them, get them to do the right things because we love them and we care about them.”
2. “I want you to know that there’s not one player, not one, since I’ve been a head coach that I kicked off the team that ever went anywhere and amounted to anything or accomplished anything, playing or academically,” Saban said. “So that is not always the answer. Discipline is not punishment. Punishment is only effective when it can help change somebody’s behavior.”
Saban said he readily understands that some players are just never going to buy in, and it can reach a point of no return.
“I get that, all right?” he said. “But I just want you all to know that we all have to be committed to trying to help our young people from a culture standpoint have a better chance to be successful in their life. That’s something that I’m very committed to, and, really, is the reason that I coach because that’s the part I like the best. It gives me the most positive self-gratification to see somebody have a chance to be successful.”
Ironically it was only a few hours earlier this past week when Georgia coach Mark Richt also touched on discipline, in this case when asked about a drug policy at Georgia that’s reputedly tougher than at most schools.
“We’ve got policies that are stronger maybe than some when it comes to the punitive part of it,” Richt said. “Thats kind of what everybody talks about. Georgia ends up suspending their guys a little bit sooner in the policy, which I’ve got no problems with.”
Richt was asked if he believes his school’s tough love stance about drugs puts the Bulldogs at a recruiting disadvantage.
“We’re not worried about that,” he said. “We don’t want our guys to do drugs, okay? I don’t want my son to do drugs.
“There are things we have in our policy, too, as far as the ability to educate them about what’s happening, giving them counseling, making sure they’re healthy, making sure there’s no addiction issue we need to deal with. There’s a punitive part and there’s an educational part, because we love ‘em. You made a mistake. You have these consequences. Not let’s turn in the right direction and become a better man for it.”
Richt said he and school officials look at a bigger picture.
“I’d rather them have that type of experience in college rather than being married for four years and got a kid or two and they get fired from their job because of something that never got nipped in the bud while they were in their college years,” he said.