The saying is tried, and at times trite, but still true: "Behind every great man is a great woman." It borders on political incorrectness these days since women are perfectly capable of being great without men. The reverse is true as well. But this old truism still has an element of truth about it that every man who succeeds must come to understand.
I pondered this old truism while reading the various news reports this morning about Alabama’s new football coach Nick Saban. While the New York critics, especially at ESPN, continue to take their shots at Saban for leaving Miami prematurely, or for not being straightforward about his motives in mid-December, the real story lies in the relationship of Nick and Terry Saban and their love for one another and for the college game and the opportunity to teach and shape student athletes.
Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore says of Nick Saban’s wife Terry, "She loves college football and longed to be back in it. So does Coach Saban. But Terry Saban was the one that made me feel good when I called her." Moore says she played a major part in Nick’s decision. My guess is that someday we will know just how big her part was.
Terry Saban is the mother of two, a former teacher and real-estate agent, and now a full-time coach’s wife. She says, of the Saban’s decision to move to Alabama, "I receive too much credit. What I felt my role was with Nick was to help him see. ‘Nick, it’s important to know who you are when making this decision.’ He’s like agonizing over it: ‘I know where my heart is. I know where I affect the most people. I know where I’m really the best. But my responsibility and my duty (is with the Miami Dolphins).’"
Terry’s response was to say: "It’s your responsibility and duty to yourself, to your family and to whoever you’re working for to go where your heart is. Because that’s really the only place we have a chance." Terry added that Alabama’s AD Mal Moore never applied pressure on the Sabans. "He always acted like what’s good for your family is important to me, and that’s how (Dolphin’s owner Wayne) Huizenga was. It was nice to have two men who were honorable saying, ‘Look, we both want you. What’s good for the Saban’s?’"
It is this "human side" of the story that the critics just don’t get. They see dollars, wins and losses, and the length of stay on a job. When this is thrown at Nick Saban the story takes on a color that fits the descriptions they want to give. Being a public person, in a very small way, I have deep sympathy with how such public figures deal with these character judgments.
In an interesting human touch at yesterday’s Alabama press conference Terry urged Nick to say one more thing before the event ended. Since Nick Saban only left LSU two years ago, and the Saban’s still have a deep affection for the people and the program at LSU, she urged her husband to say something positive about LSU before the Alabama people. This could have been a very awkward moment but Nick handled it beautifully affirming how a new rivalry will not become a bitter feud. He referred to the LSU situation as a "special relationship" and reiterated that he was conflicted two years ago when he left, wondering if he would really enjoy coaching in the pro ranks.
The media skeptics conclude that this was all about money. Afterall Saban is now the highest paid coach in college football. And he was paid a fortune to go to Miami by Wayne Huizenga two yeras ago. I cannot fathom the dollars that are invovled in these contracts but the world in which we now live is different from that in which Bear Bryant lived when he always wanted $1.00 less than the president of the university made. (In those days that was seen as too much money for a football coach too.)
My point is not to pontificate on the good, the bad and the ugly of college atheletics. My sole point is really very simple and very human. Nick and Terry Saban seem to love each other and their role in college football. They seem happy within themselves and in their marriage. Such a relationship makes for success in almost every endeavor in life, thus behind every successful coach there usually will be a wonderful and loving wife. (I know this firsthand, that with all the hours a coach puts into such a major program she had best enjoy her husband’s role or she will soon be a miserable person and all the money in the world will not buy marital bliss.) I will find it fun to watch this human side of the Saban story unfold since previous coaches at Alabama had wives who frankly hated living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and being a source of constant public attention in a small university town.