Saban demands excellence ... or else

Saban demands excellence ... or else

Published Jul. 19, 2012 2:28 p.m. ET

HOOVER, Ala. -- The successful are different.

Sometimes those differences are tough to quantify, but occasionally, a very successful person lets the mask slip and reveals the secret.

Nick Saban, entering his fifth season as the head coach at Alabama, did just that at SEC Media Days on Thursday.

"High achievers don't like mediocre people," said Saban said in a matter-of-fact tone, a slight snarl of disgust on his face at the thought of dealing with those who do not share his obsession with excellence. 

It isn't often that someone like Saban – so careful and crafted in his comments – gives a glimpse into his heart.  But his visceral disdain for mediocrity and the people who languish in it is as pure and genuine as the fury he displays on the sidelines.
Whatever the reason, Saban, who has won a pair of national titles with the Crimson Tide, was far more revealing during these media appearances than in previous years.

He even commented on Penn State, a subject that few coaches have approached in Hoover.

"If there's some kind of way that we could create a win-win, and I don't really know what that is," he said. "I just threw out (the idea of) a tax on every ticket at every athletic event and donate all the money to organizations that prevent child abuse. That would be more of a win-win than worrying about punishing someone." 

And he made a persuasive argument for the conference going to a nine-game SEC schedule.

"Trying to look at this whole thing from a thousand feet (up) rather than looking at how it just affects us, my opinion was that the number one priority should be that every player at every school have the opportunity to play every SEC school in his career," Saban said. "Now, it doesn't have to be nine games. But what scheduling format gives us an opportunity to do that? You can't do that by playing eight. You could do it by playing nine."

Saban often comes across as gruff, but once you're around him awhile, you realize that he simply doesn't have time for small talk and he refuses to suffer fools.

He also doesn't have a rearview mirror.

"There are two ways you can handle success," he said. "First, you can relax because you've had success and look back on what you did. Or you can become addicted to success and want to continue to have success like the Yankees do or the Chicago Bulls did in the '90s. That's how I've always been. I've always looked forward. I don't want to be talked about in terms of what you did, but rather what you are doing."

That message filters throughout the program. Barrett Jones, the Outland Trophy winner at tackle who will now start at center and is not a mediocre human being, parroted Saban's forward-looking approach.

"You have to prepare at such a high level and always be getting better," Jones said. "That's the Alabama way. It's Coach Saban's message to us, and it's the message our experienced guys are passing along to the younger players every day."

They buy into that message, or they don't last long.

If they don't, they are mediocre.

And mediocre people are worthy of scorn.