Yes, had it not been for the Dawgfather, UW probably wouldn’t have to play one of the greatest college football teams in history Saturday. Had it not been for Don James’ promising words, the Huskies wouldn’t have to face such a menacing foe in Nick Saban and Alabama.
ATLANTA — If all the forecasts are true; if the predictions hold up and Alabama decimates Washington like a descending shoe would a cockroach, then Huskies fans will have one man to thank.
Yes, had it not been for the Dawgfather, UW probably wouldn’t have to play one of the greatest college football teams in history Saturday. Had it not been for James’ promising words, the Huskies wouldn’t have to face such a menacing foe.
Washington (12-1) vs. Alabama (13-0), Peach Bowl, noon, ESPN
See, back in 1973, when James was the head coach at Kent State, he had an off-the-cuff conversation with a former safety of his named Nick Saban. Saban was a few months away from graduating and likely headed toward a career in the automotive industry, where his father worked.
But James suggested … actually, James practically insisted that Saban join his coaching staff as a graduate assistant. Saban wasn’t sure how to respond — mainly because he had never considered coaching before.
Still, flattered as he was, Saban declined the offer initially because he didn’t want to spend another year in school. Prepared for this response, James pointed out that Nick’s wife, Terry, still had one more year as an undergrad, meaning the couple wasn’t leaving northeast Ohio for at least another 12 months.
So Saban reluctantly agreed to the position, stayed on board for another three years, then, you know, became the greatest coach in college football history. Huskies fans can thank James for that.
Saban certainly does.
“I would never be a coach, never be sitting here as a coach if it wasn’t for Don James,” Saban said Thursday. “And I’ve tried to take a lot of the philosophical things that he does when it comes to creating values for players, not only how you develop on the field, but how you develop them as people.”
You certainly can’t argue with the “on the field” part of that quote. If the Crimson Tide wins two more games, Saban will have captured his fifth national championship with Alabama and sixth overall (one with LSU). Former ’Bama coach Bear Bryant holds the record with six national titles — all of which came in Tuscaloosa — but it’s starting to seem inevitable that Saban will surpass him one day.
So how does he do it? It’s a mixture of things, really.
What most impresses Washington coach Chris Petersen about Saban are his recruiting skills. Not just the ability to land the whales, but to spot the guys he knows will be successful.
And while you’d think a program in the national championship conversation would be able to attract top-tier talent regardless of who’s wearing the headset, Coach Pete would contend it isn’t that simple.
“It’s going to help you,” Petersen said, “but you don’t keep doing it year after year without having a tremendous system, evaluation system, you know, everything, the marketing. I mean, it’s second to none.”
What most impresses Lane Kiffin — Alabama offensive coordinator and soon-to-be Florida Atlantic head coach — is Saban’s consistency. Kiffin said that when he was a young head coach, he would lose a game and feel the need to change everything. But Saban seems to trust the process more than most and doesn’t waver based on success or failure.
“At first I kind of struggled with that because I didn’t understand it,” Kiffin said. “But it’s been very valuable to stay and see why it works.”
As for his players? Well, it depends on who you ask.
All-American safety Minkah Fitzpatrick talks about how Saban take scenes from movies the team watches together — such as the boxing flick “Bleed for This” — and turns them into motivational speeches. All-American linebacker Reuben Foster noted how Saban’s brutal honesty, such as telling recruits they might not get the chance to play, was refreshing. An offensive lineman said that the “awe factor” of having Saban in his living room was enough to get him to sign with the Tide.
Safe to say he has become the stuff of legends — and it’s all thanks to another legend who once coached the Huskies.
By the way, Saban was asked if his mind ever drifted to what life would have been like had James never nudged him into his current profession.
“I was always around cars and probably would have gone to some place to learn how to be in the car business, some kind of way,” Saban said. “And I think that when my mind does drift, I oftentimes thank Coach James for this, because every car dealer that I’ve ever had or known all wants to be a coach. So I think he headed me in the right direction.”