Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

The Closer


Somehow — between the demands of fall camp and football season, the demands of his position, perhaps the most demanding in the state — Nick Saban has time. Time to help, time to work with other coaches in other sports, time to recruit. Somehow, there is time.

When something is important, there is always time.

Helping other sports land top recruits is important to Saban. Even with two-a-day practices. Even in the middle of the season. Even on game days.

He doesn’t dictate when other sports recruit, and he has to recruit during that time as well. There’s always a bit of time in the day.

“So as busy as you are, there’s still always a portion of time that you recruit every day, so it’s not that time-consuming to try to be helpful,” Saban said in an exclusive interview with The Crimson White.

Yes, that means during fall camp. Yes, that means in the middle of the season. Yes, that means right before a game.

This is not about the biggest sport in the country — it’s about Nick Saban, who helps other sports recruit and just so happens to be the head coach of the most successful college football team over the past decade.

How do you get time with the most sought-after coach in the state?

You ask.

That’s what former gymnastics head coach Sarah Patterson did.

She went in saying they’d only take 10 minutes of his time. Ten minutes often turns into 20 when he meets with a recruit.

“He’s always talking to them and engaged with them and their parents, so I think he does an amazing job,” she said.

Before the football team won national titles in 2011 and 2012, gymnastics did it first. Before Patterson won the fifth and sixth titles of her career, equalling a University sports record, she brought in a few top recruits to meet Saban.

“I can tell you that any time I was taking a top recruit — and I took the best of the best, and I was very cognizant of his time and his schedule — but I can tell you coach Saban never said no to me,” Patterson said.

So Patterson brought in recruits, even on Fridays before games when Saban was getting ready to go with the team to the hotel.

Patterson retired in 2014, but with Dana Duckworth at the helm of the program, he still meets with her recruits.

“Our relationship with Coach Saban and his willingness to meet with recruits when we bring them on campus has always been open-armed and welcoming,” she said.

When something is important, there is always time.

It’s the ninth inning and the manager makes the call up to the bullpen. He asks for the pitcher who can finish the game out, secure the win, retire the last three batters. He needs his closer, already warmed up for this situation. This is what he does. It’s 
his specialty.

That’s Nick Saban. The No. 1 recruiter in college football knows what he’s doing. He knows how to close a deal.

The other coaches have put in the legwork. They’re ready to pull the trigger on an offer and get a commitment.

“I think what makes him a closer is not so much that he finishes a deal by saying you should, I think just in his communication, there’s an honesty and there’s an openness and there’s a transparency, and then there’s also a vision of what we’re about and what you can do when you’re here … but there’s a genuineness to him, and I think in the world of recruiting and what we do, it’s always nice to have that,” said men’s golf coach Jay Seawell. “And I think he’s very good at that.”

If anyone knows Saban in the athletic department, it’s Seawell. The two share a love of golf and a friendship beyond 
the game.

“Through my friendship, I’ve recognized how he teaches, and so that’s why I like leaning upon him just because I really enjoy [how] when it gets to the heart of it, he is a great teacher and a great coach,” Seawell said.

He said he wants him around his players and recruits when possible.

“I do think he symbolizes how we do things around here at The University of Alabama,” Seawell said.

When a coach decides to bring a recruit in to meet Saban, the recruit isn’t just anyone. These visits are reserved for the best of the best, but not every top recruit gets to see Saban. It all depends on time, 
Saban’s time.

“When we take someone in to see Coach, it’s someone that is the real deal,” Seawell said. “He or she is someone I believe that as coaches we entrust to change or help our programs, and we’ve probably done a lot of legwork on them, also.”

If he has time for a recruit, a coach will bring them and their parents down to his office. Inside, he greets them and makes them feel comfortable.

There’s no place in recruiting for half-truths and hyperboles, exaggerations if you will. They’re unwelcome, but happen if you aren’t careful.

Saban is careful.

“I think what makes Coach so good is he’s just really open and honest,” Seawell said. “I think of it as a trust factor. You can gain that really quick with him.”

The bottom line with recruiting — beyond the idea of completing a team — is a kid has to decide that this team, this school is the place for his or her talent. The coaches present a picture of what it means to play at The University of Alabama, but in the end, they can only do so much.

The coaches have already sold their program. This decision is now up to 
the recruit.

“I think it’s very important that you convey to the student-athletes, to the prospects, what it’s really going to be like day in and day out because the commitment level at Alabama is very high for everybody in my opinion — for the student-athletes, for the coaches, you know, anybody that commits to The University of Alabama knows the expectations,” said Alabama women’s tennis coach Jenny Mainz.

But bringing a recruit in to see Saban is the final push. It shows how much a coach believes in them.

What Saban says to the recruit isn’t new — the coaches have done their due diligence in getting the recruit this far — but the message is somehow different when he delivers it.

“I think that Coach Saban has so much credibility that whatever he talks about, he talks about it and you’re like a sponge, absorbing and listening and so honored that he’s given us and the recruit some time because he’s so busy,” Duckworth said.

When Mainz took over the Alabama women’s tennis program in the summer of 1997, she had a depleted roster. To fill it, she went to PE classes and sororities looking for players.

It was a struggle, in her own words, through the years.

Mainz is now the longest-tenured coach at Alabama. She’d been at Alabama for 10 years before the most iconic coach at the University since Bear Bryant took over.

“Since Saban’s arrival to the Capstone, he’s changed the face of our athletic department,” Mainz said. “He is that quarterback, he’s that point guard, he’s that No. 1 player that has made a profound impact that has changed our program — not just the women’s tennis program, but he’s changed in my opinion, the complexion of Alabama.”

A year later, Saban met with a recruit only a few hours before the Crimson Tide took on Tulane in the first home game of the season.

He didn’t rush, spending close to 30 minutes with the recruit, even though this future All-American would never play in Bryant-Denny.

Instead, Alexa Guarachi played on the other end of campus, on the hard courts of the tennis complex. There, she finished as the winningest player in the program’s history following semifinal appearances in the NCAA singles and doubles tournaments in 2013.

“She made history. It had to start with somebody, and she was that somebody, and Saban got her here,” Mainz said. “Saban got her here. That’s just as plain and simple as it is.”

It certainly helped that Guarachi grew up an Alabama fan. Meeting Saban 
was surreal.

“It was definitely a little intimidating at first, but he made me feel comfortable because he was so down to earth, so kind and so funny,” Guarachi said. “He was cool to talk to, he was so different than when you see his intensity on the sidelines coaching during a game.”

The Nick Saban that the public and media sees on game day and during 15-20 minute snippets of press conferences is — unsurprisingly — not the Saban the athletic department sees.

“He’s an incredible team player,” Seawell said. “He really does pull for everybody here at the University.”

At Alabama, there is no expectation, no reason apparent from the outside for the head football coach to be a team player for the other coaches.

“I’ve always kind of been willing to help wherever I’ve been,” Saban said. “But I probably have done more here ’cause I’ve been here longer. I feel like I have better relationships with some of the coaches in the department, and you know, the whole sort of chemistry of the department here is everybody works together. It’s not like all I’m worried about is my little deal.”

‘Everybody works together’ means caring about the athletes.

“There is no doubt, there is no doubt,” Duckworth said. “The amount of resources into developing character and developing competence and developing young men into independent, forward-thinking and more graduates, looking at academics as something important even if you are super talented.”

Most football players on the roster don’t go on to play in the NFL. The resources devoted to character and academics helps Saban too, Duckworth said.

Three weeks ago, on August 14, with all the attention focused on two-a-day practices, Saban met with a recruit for 
women’s tennis.

“I walked away thinking that’s a big reason why our women’s tennis program has advanced and elevated our national level because coach Saban has literally had a personal hand in reaching out and helping us land the best and most talented tennis players in the country,” Mainz said.

What’s struck Mainz is how Saban goes out of his way to help them. When she talks to coaches around the country and tells them how the football coach at Alabama helps meet with recruits, she said they aren’t jealous — she doesn’t like that word.

“I would say that probably some of my colleagues are probably … kind of maybe in awe of the fact that he makes the time and effort, and I think that that reveals a lot about his character,” Mainz said. “That in and of itself reveals a lot about his character.”

It isn’t obvious how the other coaches repay the favor. They aren’t meeting with football recruits and closing deals there.

“But by having a successful program, I think they do help us,” Saban said. “Because there’s a lot of positive things that come from a lot of the people who support the athletic programs here, as well as the national exposure it brings the University and the athletic department.”

Saban doesn’t do it for the thanks — and the other coaches are appreciative of his help — but because he wants to uphold this image that “tradition is always under construction.”

There’s a standard of excellence within the athletic department that brought about years like 2012 when four teams won national titles. Since then, Alabama won a team title every year until this past year. A few individual titles weren’t 
a bad consolation.

The standard of excellence is something Saban wants the football team to live up to, but it’s also why he helps the other 
coaches recruit.

“I think that the department’s goal is to first of all, help student-athletes be successful while they’re here but also in their life. I think in this day and age, there’s so much exposure for all sports that every sport that we have that’s successful, whether that’s women’s softball in the World Series, women’s gymnastics in the national championship, the tennis program, the golf programs, that’s all positive for Alabama,” Saban said. 

“I also think that it helps our football program when we support other departments, other programs in our athletic department, and I’ve always been happy to help.”

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