Nick Saban likes to refer to his Alabama football program as an “organization,” and a new book by AL.com’s John Talty digs deep into how Saban runs the Crimson Tide as if he were the CEO of a large company.
“The Leadership Secrets of Nick Saban: How Alabama’s Coach Became the Greatest Ever,” was released Tuesday by Matt Holt Books. It’s the first book by Talty, who said his goal in writing was to get at how the Alabama coach built what appears to be an unrelenting college football dynasty in Tuscaloosa.
“There have been some other books written over the years about Nick Saban, so if I was going to do it, I wanted to do something differently,” said Talty, the Senior Sports Editor and SEC Insider for AL.com and the Alabama Media Group. “Partly, this is based on my background, that my first job out of college was actually as a business reporter and I’m interested in business-type stuff. My dad worked on Wall Street, so that was part of my daily life growing up. So many people that I’ve talked to over the years — former coaches, former players, recruits — they all talked about how Nick Saban runs Alabama football like a business.
“And so I wanted to see whether there was something actually to that. Was that just football guys talking about ‘it feels like a business’ or were there actually things that he does on a daily basis that could be applicable outside of football, in a business-type setting? And so the book is essentially a deep dive looking at the how and why Nick Saban has had the success that he has. There are lots of interesting anecdotes and stuff that I think people have never read before that will appeal to any sort of football fan, but there is the business leadership-type stuff that also, I think, should appeal to people who just might be curious at how this guy has had the success he’s had over the last 25-30 years of his career.”
Talty, a New Jersey native who graduated from the University of Maryland, said he interviewed more than 100 of Saban’s former players and coaches, but not just those he worked with at Alabama or in other college stops at places such as LSU and Michigan. Saban spent more than a decade as a head coach and assistant coach in the NFL, most famously working as Bill Belichick’s defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns before an ill-fated two-year stint with the Miami Dolphins that led directly to his return to college football at Alabama in 2007.
Also included are insights from those who haven’t worked directly with or for Saban, but have competed against him.
“I wanted to try to paint the most complete picture of not only who Nick Saban is, but of his style and strategy,” Talty said on Mobile’s SportsTalk 99.5 FM. “I wanted to get as many different people from different aspects of his life or interacted with him in different ways to be able to do that. So there are former coaches, there are former players all the way back to when he was coaching with the Houston Oilers (in the early 1980s) and beyond. But also rivals, such as (former Georgia coach) Mark Richt and other people who have had to go against him over the years.
“I just felt like it was important to try to get all those different voices, to be able to show who this guy really is and not rely solely on just Alabama players or former Alabama coaches.”
The Leadership Secrets of Nick Saban” goes into granular detail not only on the core principles Saban shares with many successful leaders, but those the Alabama coach appears to have done better than most anyone before him, such as speaking to his players through the media in addition to doing so in individual or team-wide settings. With chapter headings such as “Use Staff Turnover to Improve,” “The Process,” “Don’t Waste a Failing,” and “‘Rat Poison’ and Other Lessons from the Podium,” Talty’s book is a category-by-category breakdown of the pillars of Saban’s success.
Of course, the driving force behind everything Saban does as a football coach is recruiting. He’s almost inarguably the greatest ever at it, and not just in winning over top-level high school prospects and getting them to play at Alabama.
“His very first meeting at Alabama, he had everybody in the building come to this meeting,” Talty said. “I’m talking custodians, secretaries, the low-level (graduate assistants) — it doesn’t matter what your role is. He wanted you at this meeting. And he laid it out to them in very clear terms — ‘Everything we do is about recruiting. Everything has to be geared toward recruiting at a high level.’ “And I think that’s something that he has done from that day all the way through. (Former assistant) Tyler Siskey told me a story … that they used to send (Saban) about a hundred recruiting films when he went on vacation and he would just, even when he was on vacation, he was watching recruiting films and he would send in his notes and he would update them and things like that. I mean, it’s something that he prioritizes every single day.
“He has understood that the No. 1 thing he has to do to be successful is to have the right people. And so if you understand the No. 1 thing is to have the right people, then he wants to be involved in those important steps.”
“The Leadership Secrets of Nick Saban” is available wherever books are sold, including Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million and through the Penguin Random House website. Talty will appear for book signings/readings at The Little Professor Bookshop in Homewood Aug. 11 and at Page & Palette in Fairhope on Aug. 18.