Can Nick Saban stand this much success?

In presenting this white paper on the profile of a prominent football coach (Gene Chizik) who could not handle reaching  the pinnacle of success, we stop to appreciate  the achievements and pressures of success his arch-rival coach now faces.

While we have been focusing on Coach Gene Chizik’s precipitous decline from the top of the football world another success story presents itself from his former chief rival Nick Saban. The situation calls for a brief diversion before completing the Chizik story.

Seven days ago Saban won his third national title in four years and his fourth overall in nine years. It brings to mind a recent conversation I had about him this past October with FSU Coach Jimbo Fisher (previously the offensive coordinator on Saban’s 2003 LSU national title team).

Following a speech by Fisher, who sees sports psychology as an important part of his program, we discussed the unappreciated difficulties in climbing the heights of success — and staying there.  Fisher and I talked over how there was another level to managing success in light of our new understanding of the mind – the discovery of the brilliant quick-read super intelligence which sheds new light on the pressures of success (see article 1). Looking for every advantage he listened intently.

At the time on October 29, 2012, it was virtually a foregone conclusion that Gene Chizik would lose his job at the end of the season – and Fisher was already being mentioned as a possible successor. I pointed out to Jimbo that Chizik would be the third Auburn coach in a row over the last 20 years to follow an undefeated season with an extremely poor season not long down the road and lose his job. (Jimbo had been the quarterback coach at Auburn when Terry Bowden – the first of the three coaches — quit before he was fired in 1998.) Each coach had become dysfunctional and had major blind spots when it came to handling success.

Fisher then asked, “What about the guy on the other side of the state?” He was of course referring to Saban.  He wondered how Saban had protected himself from a major success retreat. At the time I had not really studied Saban and suggested we think about it. Then we discussed how John Wooden—the great UCLA basketball coaching legend (10 NCAA basketball national titles in 12 years) — had avoided success sabotage.

By the end of the season Saban was at the peak of his career having experienced a rare level of success with another national championship in hand. Only one of 5 coaches to win 4 national titles (Bryant, Hayes, Stagg, and Warner).

Now there was one clear way Nick Saban could avoid any further real success, history-making success. He could go to the NFL and coach. Many people would see that as a success but it would be a secret retreat. Under the circumstances it would be a step down not a step up.

Saban has a chance to be the only college coach to win three national titles in a row.  (For the record only one NFL team has won 3 championships in a row—the 1965-67 Green Bay Packers.) In addition he has a chance to surpass Bear Bryant’s all time record of six which would put him ahead of the whole pack.

Going to the NFL Saban wouldn’t have to worry about any of those records—and the unbelievable pressure that goes with them. Far more pressure than any coach appreciates consciously. The newly discovered super intelligence (see article 1) has taught us there is 90% more pressure to success than we realize because there is 90% more to our minds.

But shortly after winning his 2012 title Saban has seemingly passed the test of an NFL retreat. He declared that he has forever “closed the door” on returning to the NFL as a head coach.

It’s not like Saban hasn’t unconsciously retreated to the NFL before. Following his 2003 national title at LSU he became the Miami Dolphin’s head coach for two years. There he learned that he lacked the control he had in the college ranks – not only was parity a problem but so were drafting and salary caps. He could have foreseen these difficulties and perhaps had similar success at LSU that he’s had at Alabama without the interruption. Maybe by now he would have a fifth national title.

Saban himself can see now that building a college football dynasty has certain advantages versus the NFL. He has a better “draft position” every year with his extraordinary recruiting skills at a magnet school for attracting talent with Alabama’s long tradition, and he now has a special connection to the next league up (the NFL) which appeals to players. And he’s not handicapped by money to upgrade facilities and staffing.

Parenthetically, it’s not like great coaches can’t unconsciously retreat as they approach breaking a longstanding record. An NFL and Dallas Cowboy insider told me about former Dallas Cowboy coach Jimmy Johnson’s silly fight and split with owner Jerry Jones. Johnson had a chance to go where no NFL coach had gone—three Super Bowl titles in a row — when he allowed Jones to force him into a retreat and resigned as coach in 1994 after winning it all in 1992 and 1993.

Stay tuned. Nick Saban has passed the first hurdle of success retreat —he’s not going to the NFL. But there will be greater pressures of success to come – beyond anything he now knows.

Already he has provided one clue about success pressure: he tells us that Alabama will be the unique target of each opponent next year. In so doing he has pointed us to the Auburn-Alabama rivalry. Nobody will target Alabama more than arch-rival Auburn.

While Auburn appears down and done for a while don’t count them out when it comes to playing Alabama. Unexpectedly they came completely out of the blue in 2010 to win it all, the last team to break the Tide’s streak.

Before we return to the rest of the story on Gene Chizik’s self-induced decline, we will take a look at the special competition between Auburn and Alabama in a game that’s known as the Iron Bowl. Chizik’s 2010 victory there helped usher him rapidly down the slippery slope of success.

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