There are many words that define Nick Saban's tenure at Alabama, but the one that comes most immediately to mind is transformative. Transformative for the SEC, for the University of Alabama, for college football as a whole. Whenever Saban's tenure ends, each of those three institutions will be utterly unrecognizable from when they began the day Saban landed on the Tuscaloosa National Airport's tarmac on Jan. 3, 2007.
And though Saban's crimson reign is not near its end, the 2021 campaign marks Saban's 15th at Alabama. It's been a remarkable run for a coach labeled a nomad and a mercenary the day he took the job. This week, we're marking the occasion by recounting Saban's 15 most impactful assistant coaches, players, wins and quotes during his time as Alabama's head coach.
We've spent this week counting down Nick Saban's most impactful assistant coaches, players and wins heading into this fall, his 15th at Alabama. But the true measure of the man's influence will be measured in two ways: the way he affected the way the game is played -- i.e., how other coaches brought tempo, RPO-based offenses to the SEC in order to beat him, only for him to end up dominating everyone else with it -- and his quotes. Saban-isms permeate our daily vernacular in ways we probably don't even notice anymore. Personally, I find myself dropping an "A'ight?" on my kids from time to time.
When his time in the game eventually comes to an end -- scholars estimate this will be sometime between 2040 and 2060 -- that's what I'll miss the most about the man. Every time Saban speaks, class is in session.
15. “Changes in history usually occur after some kind of catastrophic event. It may be 9/11, which sort of changed the spirit of American relative to catastrophic events. Pearl Harbor kind of got us ready for World War II, and that was a catastrophic event.” -- Nov. 20, 2007
Saban took heat for this at the time, but it says everything you need to know about the man that comparing his 6-5 team losing to a Sun Belt opponent was a personal tragedy equivalent to Pearl Harbor and 9/11.
14. "I guess I have to say it, I'm not going to be the Alabama coach." -- Dec. 21, 2006
We're cheating a bit here as this quote precedes his Alabama tenure, but this quote still looms over his and every other coach at job speculation time. It took Saban more than a decade to live this one down personally -- some people will never let him live it down, but most have moved on -- and plenty use it as proof that no coach should ever be believed when he says he's not going to take a certain job. Honestly, can you blame them?
"In the end, it effected my integrity as a person by saying one thing and doing something else," Saban said of this quote years later.
13. "You all just think that, whatever happens we just shit another player, everything's going to be perfect. All of our fans think that, you all think that, that's what you write about, that's the message that you send out there." -- Aug. 18, 2018
Describing college football's ultimate first-world problem, that Alabama's backups must be developed and are not, as widely believed by the public, shat out.
12. "There were no arguments. Those are called ass chewings." -- Sept. 10, 2016
Saban summarized his three-year Lane Kiffin experience with this quote, describing a rant directed at his offensive coordinator in the waning moments of a blowout win over Western Kentucky.
11. "And they ran through our ass like shit through a tin horn, man, and we could not stop them. We could not stop them. Could not stop them." -- Nov. 18, 2015
In the days before his (eventual national champion) 2015 team faced Charleston Southern, Saban admonished his team (through the media) not to take a blowout win for granted by harkening back to his 2011 squad's struggles with Georgia Southern. Then an FCS team, the Eagles rushed for 302 yards (on 7.7 a carry) and a touchdown against a defense that allowed 938 rushing yards and three touchdowns -- all season.
The Tide would beat Charleston Southern that Saturday, 56-6. There were plenty of garbage time snaps to go around.
10. "If it was up to you, we're six-foot under already. We're dead and buried and gone, gone." -- Oct. 5, 2015
Two days after his 13th-ranked team, uh, buried No. 8 Georgia, 38-10 in Athens, and 16 days removed from a loss to Ole Miss that inspired a fountain of "Is Saban done?" takes. Remember, Alabama was two years and counting removed from a title and hadn't solved the up-tempo spread offense at that time. They would go on to win the fourth of six national titles four months later.
9. "Why do you continually try to get me to say something that doesn't respect one of them? I'm not going to, so quit askin'." -- Sept. 1, 2008
Saban was in no mood to answer questions from ESPN's Maria Taylor about his QB1 derby between Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts immediately after Alabama's 51-14 demolition of Louisville to open the 2018 season. Saban later apologized to Taylor.
8. "Mediocre people don't like high achievers and high achievers don't like mediocre people." -- Numerous times
Saban has said this quote so often it's difficult to pinpoint the first time it joined public consciousness. Nevertheless, it's been used as motivational fodder both inside and outside sports, and it's also taken on a second life as a persecution forcefield for the certain type of person who interprets criticism from those around them as proof that, no, it's them who are in the wrong.
7. “So I want everybody to think here for a second. How much does this game mean to you? ‘Cause it if means something to you, you can’t stand still. You understand? You play fast. You play strong. You go out there and dominate the man you’re playing against and you make his ass quit. That’s our trademark. That’s our M.O. as a team. That’s what people know us as.” -- Nov. 8, 2008
In 2008, Saban returned to Tiger Stadium for the first time as an opponent, with a No. 1-ranked Tide team against a No. 15-ranked LSU more hungry for a victory than any team ever has been for a regular season game without a trophy directly on the line. Alabama won the game 27-21 in overtime, and "make his ass quit" made it into every corner of the Alabama Internet the week after.
6. “So my question to you is, where do you want them to be? Want to condemn them to a life sentence? Or do you want a guy to have his children going to Princeton?” -- Dec. 20, 2014
Saban took years of criticism for giving certain players second chances, most notably in the case of Jonathan Taylor, a standout defensive lineman who got kicked off Georgia's roster for domestic violence, then subsequently got arrested at Alabama for the same thing. But this rant was before that, when Saban's frustration boiled over into a rant on Muhsin Muhammad -- a Michigan State player to whom Saban gave a second chance, and Muhammad turned that into a long NFL career, a career in business and an eldest daughter who attended Princeton. "So who was right?" Saban asked.
The situation was a game of double cynicism, as Saban seemingly only took an eye in rehabilitating kids who can help him on the field, and his critics were mad that Saban was rehabbing kids who could hurt them. In the end, Saban claimed victory.
"He evaluated my character and thought I was deserving of a second opportunity," Muhammad said in 2019. "I'm grateful for that, and Nick is probably grateful too that I didn't make him look bad."
5. "I grew up with the idea that you play good defense, you run the ball, you control vertical field position on special teams and you’re going to win. Whoever rushes the ball for the most yards is going to win the game. You’re not going to win anything now doing that." -- March 25, 2021
Saban has nodded in this direction many times in recent months but here, speaking to a Louisiana high school coaches clinic, he spells it out as clearly as he can. The paradigm has shifted, and Saban shifted with it.
4. “We’re not going to talk about what we’re going to accomplish. We’re going to talk about how we’re going to do it.” -- Jan. 4, 2007
Saban at his introductory press conference, describing The Process before we knew what The Process was.
3. “I want everybody here to know, this is not the end. This is the beginning.” -- Jan. 16, 2010
Spoken at the celebration of Alabama's 2009 national championship season. It's only a rumor that the ground split in two on every SEC campus immediately after those words were uttered.
2. "Is this really what we want football to be?" -- Oct. 3, 2012
This came at the end of a long rant against up-tempo offenses, where Saban argued the NCAA should create rules limiting how quickly the ball could be snapped, couched in the name of player safety. One week later, No. 1 Alabama would lose to No. 15 Texas A&M, falling behind in a 20-0 blitzkrieg. In 2014 and '15, Alabama would fall to Hugh Freeze's tempo spread offenses at Ole Miss. Fun as it was to hang this quote around Saban's head at the time, the joke's now on us.
1. "They all think they have this illusion of choice. Like I can do whatever I want to do. And you kind of have a younger generation now that doesn't always get told no, they don't always get told this is exactly how you need to do it. So they have this illusion that they have all these choices. But the fact of the matter is, is if you want to be good, you really don't have a lot of choices. Because it takes what it takes. You have to do what you have to do to be successful. So you have to make choices and decisions to have the discipline and focus to the process of what you need to do to accomplish your goals." -- April 12, 2015
If you have to boil the entire Nick Saban ethos down to a single sound byte, this is it. The illusion of choice, it takes what it takes -- that's the whole thing right there. Saban long ago realized that there was one path to the top and only one way to stay there. Why hasn't Alabama fallen more than a decade removed from its first national championship? Because Saban's effort remains constant and the tone is set from there. Because there really is no choice if this is what you're about. Because it takes what it takes.