There are a lot of things that could keep a Hall of Fame head coach like Nick Saban tossing and turning all night long. Being the leader of the Alabama Crimson Tide is the most demanding job in college football, so it’s no surprise that the 67-year-old coach loses some sleep from time to time.
In an interview with ESPN’s Chris Low, Saban revealed that winning and losing football games has nothing to do with it. In fact, it’s the relationships and close bonds that Saban forms throughout that process of preparing and teaching his players that weighs on him the heaviest when those late-night blues kick in.
The Fairmont, West Virginia native is often painted as an emotionless robot who only cares about the journey to another championship, but what his critics don’t understand is this: For Saban, caring about his players is the biggest part of that process.
“The thing I lose sleep over the most is not winning and losing the games, it’s about players. It’s about a guy who’s not doing the right thing or somebody you’re trying to get to see the light and buy into doing the right things. I’ve been coaching for [46 years], and to have what happened with Maurice Smith and his family, that’s what I lose sleep over.”
— Nick Saban, via ESPN
Saban mentions the transfer of defensive back Maurice Smith, who was originally blocked from leaving Alabama for Georgia as a graduate transfer in 2016. The SEC’s rules stated that a player transferring within the conference must have two years of eligibility left and sit for one season. Smith pursued a master’s degree in Public Health and was eventually granted his transfer to join Alabama’s former defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart.
“What I lay awake at night and think about is where did I fail a guy like Maurice Smith. What didn’t I do, or what could I have done better?” Saban said he will ask himself. This is a characteristic that he’s made public numerous times, including writing a book titled How Good Do You Want to Be?: A Champion’s Tips on How to Lead and Succeed.
Alabama’s quarterback battle between Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts in 2018 was heavily criticized, but the football coach was focused, first and foremost, on the leadership qualities of both young men. Saban’s emotion spilled over when Hurts brought Alabama back to win the SEC Championship, and he applauded Hurts’ approach the entire year as the team’s backup quarterback.
“Everybody says, ‘He just won 31-3. What’s he complaining about?'” Saban told ESPN. “But it goes back to the inner scoreboard versus the outer scoreboard. Which one is more important? If you’re going to accomplish your goals, it’s always the inner scoreboard.”
The outer scoreboard of wins and championships is how Alabama will likely be remembered, but the inner scoreboard of graduated student-athletes who went on to lead incredibly successful lives is how Nick Saban deserves to be remembered.