April 22, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Retired Nick Saban explains what he “misses most” about coaching

Retired Nick Saban explains what he “misses most” about coaching

Read the autobiography of former Alabama football coach Nick Saban and you'll notice the continuity. There were no gap years or even weeks.

Since he started as a graduate assistant at Kent State, he has dictated all but one of the job changes, so the time between being fired as defensive backs coach at Ohio State after the 1981 season and taking a job at Navy will likely be the only time in his adult life where he didn't… Be part of the team.

This streak, of course, extends back to his playing days. In childhood. You get the point.

So, the morning of January 11, 2024 was among the first since his childhood days in the hills of West Virginia. His team It effectively stopped at the breakfast table.

For someone who was not only concerned with routine, but centered around routine, breaking that vicious cycle has been among the biggest challenges since Saban's retirement on Jan. 10.

Beyond the daily ritual, stepping out of the hands-on position of a large organization was another task. Keep in mind, Saban has been the tip of the spear every day since he left the Cleveland Browns in early 1995 to become Michigan State's head coach.

He was not a passive observer delegating heavy lifting.

Saban lived the job.

And after 10 days out of the Rose Bowl, it was over.

The Weather Channel/Oatmeal Cream Pie/Go to the Morning Desk Part 3 lost in mid-January.

For the most part, he has moved away from the centralized life he has lived for so long. After participating in the process of appointing Calen de Boer as his successor, Saban slipped into his new South Florida mansion and golf course.

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He has played in a few famous golf events.

But mostly, he ceded the spotlight to Debord, allowing a man facing a formidable challenge and a shrinking start to handle his business without interference.

By Monday evening, some semblance of the old routine had returned.

Back in Birmingham for the Nick Saban Legacy Awards, Saban met with local reporters for the first time since walking off stage. He did some interviews in the immediate aftermath of his retirement, but he didn't enjoy the spontaneous nature of the press conference format that Saban had come to love over the decades.

Entering the packed interview room at the Red Mountain Theater on Monday night, Saban appeared relaxed. I smile. Like a real one. Cedric Burns was a long-time assistant by his side, so the team wasn't completely disbanded.

“I wasn't ready for this,” he joked to TV cameras and reporters. After making brief comments about the event and the fact that they were honoring Bobby Bowden and Frank Beamer, Saban opened the floor to questions.

He got a little about retirement life.

It's going well. Good times, bad golf – typical stuff for men in their 70s who chose the Florida coast for their golden years.

However, this engine is still running somewhere in the background.

The program and team whose legacy he spent years building continued in his absence.

That whole team dynamic still lingers in his head. When asked in previous years about the prospect of retirement, Saban always said he'd been on a team his whole life and frankly didn't know how he was going to adjust to this constant just fading away.

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How does reality compare to thought?

“I think that was the biggest thing,” Saban said. “The relationships you have with the people you work with every day, the players you have relationships with that you try to inspire and help. That's probably the thing I miss the most.”

It was probably the shortest answer of his eight minutes on the podium.

It's worth trying to see this whole new world from Saban's perspective now. After 17 years of being the leader of the group, he has to flip a switch that wasn't there before. Now in an ill-defined advisory role with the Alabama football program, he aims to be helpful without turning into a helicopter parent to the empire he has rebuilt.

When asked about the work DeBoer has done since he was hired from Washington two days after Saban's exit, he touched on that balancing act.

“I really wasn't there. I'm really trying to stay away,” Saban said. “I don't want anyone to think I'm looking over his shoulder. I think he's hired a good staff and I think he's a good guy. “I think he's a good coach and I think he'll do a really good job.”

Saban said he talks with DeBoer and new defensive coordinator Ken Wommack “every now and then.” He will sit down with Wommack, the former South Alabama head coach, sometime this week.

To be a fly on the wall…

He has the TV gig as a complementary team in this transitional phase. Working with ESPN and joining the College GameDay team will keep Saban involved in the sport as an analyst rather than a puppet master.

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“I would like to continue to impact college football in a positive way in the future,” Saban said. “It gives me a voice to do it. It keeps me involved in football.”

Then he looked like a coach.

“It's not just about being out there, it's about the preparation that comes with that and how it can keep me involved in the game,” Saban said.

It serves as a transitional step in reprogramming a brain that is so focused on controlling the sport as a player and then as a coach. Practically all his life he was an alpha in the football environment.

Now it is not.

His longest-serving teammate was there with a fitting reminder. As the questions ended, wife Terri Saban entered the interview room with some coaching of her own.

“The Beamers are waiting for you,” she said from behind, kind of smiling.

Kinda not.

“The Beamers are waiting to take a family photo,” she added with a little of that Saban spirit.

Maybe retirement won't be everything Which Different.

It turns out the home team isn't going anywhere.

Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande Or on Facebook.