For the record, Nick Saban is a Jon Snow guy.
As much as he works to cultivate the image of a gruff coach so consumed with the task at hand that he can’t be bothered to be aware of the world around him — He didn’t know a presidential election was coming up! He eats the same lunch every day because he’s too busy to order something different! — that’s never really been true. The Saban away from the camera is a different from the man we get on camera, and in recent years the Alabama head coach has been more willing to show his mellowed-in-his-advancing-age side and the sharp sense of humor he’s typically saved for private conversation.
For instance, Saban watches Game of Thrones. The epic saga is the world’s biggest television show, one so big it’s now become recruiting fodder in the world of college football. While the Saban of 2009, or 2011 or, heck, 2016 would have pretended he didn’t know the show existed, the Saban of 2019 is willing to talk about the show and even joke about it.
“The White Walkers were the bad dudes, man,” Saban he said. “I mean, if we were recruiting, we would go north and try to recruit some of those guys.”
Saban made the comments during an appearance on WJOX-FM in Birmingham, and the conversation evolved into the struggles the various characters endure in the fictional land of Westeros and how Saban might apply them to future versions of his fabled Friday night speeches.
One of the hosts mentions how Barrett Jones, an Outland Trophy winner and member of Alabama’s 2009, ’11 and ’12 national championship teams, lists Saban’s Friday night deliveries as his favorite memory as a Crimson Tide player, which led to a nostalgic discussion on how Saban is now preparing for Year 13 as Alabama’s head coach with no end in sight.
This leads Saban into explaining the epiphany he had at some point a few years back, where he, the guy who stormed into Tuscaloosa with the reputation as a mercenary, realized the true challenge isn’t taking a different girl home from the dance hall every night, but winning the same girl night after night after night.
“We felt like we don’t need a new challenge,” Saban said. “The challenge there is, every year how do you sustain what you’re trying to accomplish from a standards standpoint? Every year is a rebuilding year in my mind. We don’t need to go someplace else to do that, we can just keep trying to do that at Alabama.”
True to form, ever since some two-way flirting leading to a reported $100 million offer to replace Mack Brown at Texas after the 2013 season, there hasn’t been a whisper of Saban’s interest at any other program — college or NFL — than Alabama. Be where your feet are, as Saban likes to tell his players.
“Sometimes when you win a lot, people don’t understand that success is not a continuum, it’s momentary, so you’ve got to keep doing the things that you did to be successful but sometimes you lose your humility a little bit, you get a little complacent,” Saban said. “That kind of creates a blatant disregard for doing what’s right and you start developing bad habits. You don’t practice, you don’t prepare, you don’t do things the way you need to do them or the way you have been doing them, and then you play somebody really good and you get exposed a little bit.”
Put all the pieces together and you’ll see the situation before the 2019 Alabama team is the ultimate Nick Saban challenge (and I’m using that term ever so loosely). The 2018 Crimson Tide was a fantastically talented team — a team good enough to blast Georgia and Oklahoma (combined record when not playing Alabama: 23-3) by a combined 49-0 over a 35-minute span split between the two games. But they were also vulnerable enough for Clemson to humble them like a Nick Saban-led team has never been humbled, falling 44-16 for all the world to see in the national championship game. The staff turned over almost completely yet again. The 2019 Crimson Tide is shaping up to be a monster, but a monster that needs some tinkering — the right encouragement from the right leader in order to ascend to the throne.
They need Jon Snow, basically. Nick Saban knows just the guy.