Nick Saban spoke to a sold-out crowd of more than 1,500 people on Tuesday. Swathed in a sea of crimson, fans paid $50 a pop and waited hours in the sweltering heat just for the opportunity to see the four-time national championship-winning coach speak.
One may have expected Saban to be in the heart of Tuscaloosa or in Birmingham, but he was not. Instead, a massive tent was set up in Athens, Tenn., roughly 60 miles away from his SEC rival Volunteers over in Knoxville. Were there complaints from Tennessee fans leading up to the Area Chamber of Commerce benefit dinner at Tennessee Wesleyan College?
Of course, but Saban was not there to raise booster money (although his hour-long speaking engagement did have all the look and feel of a booster engagement). He was in Tennessee to raise cash for Nick’s Kids Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting children, family, teacher and student causes. He took the opportunity to explain how he is keeping his superstar-laden team from falling into complacency. He told the crowd that he even went so far as to recently show his squad a tape of Buster Doulgas’ shocking win over Mike Tyson.
“You become the target,” said Saban, whose team is seeking its third straight BCS title and fourth in the past five years. “Everybody’s got our name circled. Everyone wants to beat us. You’ve got to get ready for that. When the game comes, everybody wants to win. Who prepared to win the game the right way?”
The point is, Saban expects excellence, but gleaning such elite play from every single student-athlete is a daily challenge.
“My point is mediocre people don’t like high achievers. High achievers don’t like mediocre people. But if you don’t define the expectation for everybody in the organization and the standard, what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to do it, then how can you know whether someone is mediocre or a high achiever. If you let them coexist in the same organization, I don’t care how you like the guy, what kind of buddy he is, how long you’ve known him, it doesn’t matter – if you let that happen then you’re never going to have team chemistry because everybody is going to say, ‘That person didn’t have to do the same thing he did. He’s not doing what I do.’ You’re always going to have that decisiveness in your organization, so we never let that happen on our team.”
Of course, there was some comedic relief. About 35 minutes into his time on stage, Saban was asked about quarterback AJ McCarron’s love life. A fan was worried that his girlfriend, Katherine Webb, “is such a beautiful woman and A.J. needs to concentrate on football.”
“I’d like to put you in his situation and see what you’d do,” Saban quipped. He went to detail the leadership qualities the two-time national title-winning passer brings to the locker room and to the huddle.
Watch a video of Saban’s appearance up in Tennessee here: