It is understandable for a high school recruit or a young player at Alabama to be nervous around Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide football coach’s resume and his reputation precede him in almost any interaction he can have.
That presence of pressure doesn’t always leave so easily, though. It can last even for some of Alabama’s veterans.
“Yes, I got nervous in front of Coach Saban for a long time,” senior running back Damien Harris said. “It actually took me probably until last year before I could even talk to him without getting nervous. But yeah, Coach Saban had me scared for a little while.”
By last year, Harris had become a starter and already had a 1,000-yard season under his belt. He was one of Alabama’s key players. But his angst hadn’t evaporated.
The same is true for Deionte Thompson. The fourth-year safety is probably in closer proximity to Saban in practice when the head coach is hands-on with Alabama’s defensive backs. He knows he’ll hear about any mistake he makes.
“He’s watching us all the time,” Thompson said. “Even if he’s not around he’s watching. The eye in the sky is watching, he’s going to watch it on film. He’ll tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong in meetings even before the play pops up.”
Of course, that kind of accountability isn’t limited to the secondary at Alabama. It’s part of the program for every player and coach.
Senior tight end Hale Hentges remembers when he missed a call on an out block during his second game as a freshman in 2015.
“He blew me up on the sidelines,” Hentges said. “But that happens to everyone. Of course that just adds to it. He demands a lot out of us, and we respect him to death. That’s something we all love (about) him, and it’s just how he is. It’s why he’s the best.”
Saban’s presence may affect some players more than others. Harris said that freshman running back Jerome Ford handles himself much better around Saban than he did at the same age. Senior outside linebacker Christian Miller said younger players should understand that they’ll make mistakes at times. Coaches are understanding of those mistakes, as long as it leads to progress.
That means that Saban is still approachable, Thompson said. He sees the head coach as a “great coach, a great father figure, a great male figure,” even though he can be tough.
“It’s just his presence when he walks in the room, he’s all about his business,” Thompson said. “The first time you’re going to be uncomfortable with it, but once you get used to it, you get comfortable.”
Eventually those Alabama players grow accustomed to the coach’s company. But while they eventually graduate and leave, the coach remains. Another group of new players arrives the next fall. His presence persists.
“He’s just such a guy of such stature and importance, especially around here,” Hentges said. “I mean, he’s the next closest thing to God. For us, we love him to death and we just respect him and admire him so much. Naturally, he’s just a guy that has a big effect on you. Of course I used to get nervous around him, but now our relationship is so great now, it’s perfect.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.