The first part of this series focused on Coach Saban, Purveyor of The Process, whose commitment to excellence can be received as judgment by those too weak to try. In the second part, we looked at Nick Saban, Winner of Championships, who seems uninterested in the glory that accompanies his accomplishments. In this third and final part, I want to consider Nicholas Lou Saban Jr., the man.

By using The Process, Mr. Saban has managed to limit the flaws in his football team. That much is undeniable. The principles underlying The Process, however, are not limited to football. In fact, Saban makes no bones about The Process doubling as a roadmap for success in life’s every endeavor:

“Well, the process is really what you have to do day in and day out to be successful,” he said. “We try to define the standard that we want everybody to sort of work toward, adhere to, and do it on a consistent basis. And the things that I talked about before, being responsible for your own self-determination, having a positive attitude, having great work ethic, having discipline to be able to execute on a consistent basis, whatever it is you’re trying to do, those are the things that we try to focus on, and we don’t try to focus as much on the outcomes as we do on being all that you can be.

“Eliminate the clutter and all the things that are going on outside and focus on the things that you can control with how you sort of go about and take care of your business. That’s something that’s ongoing, and it can never change.”

Alas, The Process loses me from the outset. As noble as it may sound, “being responsible for your own self-determination” is simply beyond my grasp. It seems like every day I’m blaming my wife or my children for making me lose my temper or blaming my parents for making me play baseball instead of learn the piano. It’s too late for me to become an astronaut, and I’ve always lacked the tools for modeling. It often feels as though my self-determination depends on everything but me, influenced as I am (and we are) by forces I can’t control and haunted by events that I can’t change.


This may be true of me, and it may be true of other people—even you—but maybe not Mr. Saban. Mr. Saban is an exceptional football coach; perhaps he is also an exceptional human being. But whether he’s is responsible for his own self-determination is another question. If anyone knows the answer, it should be his wife, Terry:

The key to understanding her husband, Terry says, is knowing about his father, Big Nick, the withholding owner of a gas station and a Dairy Queen who died when Saban was in his early twenties. Big Nick’s passion was coaching a Pop Warner football team he founded, the Idamay Black Diamonds. Saban worked at his dad’s gas station and quarterbacked the Black Diamonds—and whether at the station or on the field, he took the brunt of his father’s perfectionism.

Terry still remembers how the neighbors came over to congratulate her future husband after a big win. As they patted him on the back, “I only heard comments from his dad about how he could have done better.”

For anyone who has ever had a father, this story is a punch in the gut. We can begin to understand why Nick is so thirsty for perfection and why, given that his father died when Nick was in his twenties, that thirst for perfection can never quite be quenched. As Nick himself says, The Process is “ongoing, and it can never change.” So, when Warren St. John claims that “[t]here’s no guy behind the guy,” we can’t quite believe it. There is a guy behind the guy, and, because that guy is dead, Nick can never escape his critical gaze—or hear him say how proud he is of his son. When we read that Nick is “the one trying like hell to smile after a big win and just not quite feeling it,” we should be understanding, not judgmental.

And what we should understand is this: No amount of devotion to The Process or worldly success, whether measured in championships or money, will bring Nick joy or quiet the voice of his long-dead father. Perhaps the hope for Nick is not unlike the hope the rest of us have–hope in a decisive moment that declares the end, not only to The Process, but to all human striving.

One final, hopeful detail: Nick faithfully attends a Catholic Church, including Mass before every game. Let’s pray that he finds rest there. That, and a win this weekend.