With all the success that Nick Saban has had in Tuscaloosa, it's easy to forget that his first season leading the Tide in 2007 he went 7-6 (until a textbook scandal that spilled over from the Mike Shula regime changed that record, at least in the eyes of the NCAA).
The team's first full recruiting class in 2008 that he and his staff hauled in was stacked with first-round NFL talent though, and they were sold on the vision that Saban pitched about where they were going to take the program.
That class included unreal talent like Dont'a Hightower, Mark Ingram, Terrance Cody, Marcell Dareus, Barrett Jones, Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron and a huge in-state signee in Julio Jones out of Foley HS (AL).
Those guys went on to have outstanding careers with the Tide and get opportunities in the NFL, and Saban doesn't downplay the impact each of them had on the program's journey to elite status.
"They all came here when we weren't any good. We were just coming off a 6-6 season, or something like that, so they came here and they believed. They came here and they trusted in what we're trying to do to create a program and they came here to prove something."
Over the next four years with those guys in the program, the expectation and culture changed. They would go 48-6 together, winning two national titles during their time on campus from 2008-11 and setting the bar for another national title in 2012.
Saban shared that out of all that talent, the most important addition out of the entire group was Julio Jones, who is now an elite NFL receiver with the Titans. In sharing about the impact Jones had on the program, Saban highlights how the leadership traits of a single person can help to transform a program.
"It was probably one of the most important things that ever happened to the program."
"There is nobody that we've had that is a better leader, or did more to enhance the culture, giving effort, finishing plays, being a great competitor than Julio Jones did. I mean, he used to run down on kickoff and refuse to come off the kickoff team during a game and he was one of the very best receivers in the country."
"So from a culture standpoint, and from an impact standpoint, in the early years there were a lot of guys that made a great impact, but Julio is one that probably led the way as much as anyone."
As coaches always looking for ways to build the next leader in your program, I thought that comment was very insightful.
At the college level you can recruit and develop leaders, but at the high school level, you absolutely have to develop them, and those comments from Saban regarding Julio illustrate how the right leader can transform your program.
Hear more on the Julio effect from Saban in the clip.