HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The lights went down, the overhead projector came to life, and Nick Saban was in his element.
Standing in a conference room packed with a few hundred high school coaches, Saban was talking his brand of football — one that isn’t easily translated, even by his fellow coaches.
When breaking down diagrams of the Crimson Tide’s defensive strategy when attacking the wildcat offense, perplexed looks came Saban’s way. His defenses, after all, are known for their complexity.
Whether or not the information processed fully, Saban’s appearance was the highlight of Thursday’s speakers at the Alabama High School Athletic Directors and Coaches Association’s Coaches School that coincided with the All-Star Sports Week in Huntsville.
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Florida coach Urban Meyer spoke in the same room a year ago, but the crowd wasn’t nearly the size that Saban addressed this year.
Given the caliber of guests, it’s a speaking engagement that benefits both parties. The prep coaches get to talk Xs and Os with the national championship winning coach while Saban reaches an audience that includes a good number of faces he sees on the recruiting trail.
Coaches, no matter the level, are individuals with personalities unlike most of the population.
“We assume that everybody is like us — that they want to be the best and that they want to win,” Saban said. “Yet 95 percent of the people out there are normal. We’re not normal. We’re driven, but 95 percent of the people are normal, and all they want to do is survive.”
The nearly two-hour session in the Von Braun Center wasn’t all film study and hard-core football talk. Saban touched on a range of off-the-field issues including leadership, dealing with parents and the reporters. When it comes to dealing with the ever-growing media, he said paying close attention to everything written and said does little good.
“I don’t read the paper,” he said. “I don’t listen to the radio. I have never listened — in three years at Alabama — to Paul Finebaum. I never listened to him in all my time at LSU. I like the guy, and I don’t have a problem with him. I never listened to him.”
On the topic of parents, Saban said he understands they can be the most difficult group of any group with which coaches communicate. Playing time is always an issue, no matter the level of play.
When addressing leadership, the topic of LeBron James’ nationally televised announcement of his signing with the Miami Heat came up.
“The way (James) managed what he just did speaks volumes about who he is and whether he is a team guy — not because he left Cleveland, but the way he did it,” Saban said. “ … That’s not the kind of trust and respect you’d like to have in a team organization.”
Shaping the mental side of a program is another key toward success, he said. Alabama has two sports psychologists and one psychiatrist to help its athletes, but all that comes with the success the Tide has experienced the past two seasons.
“We have a whole class of kids who have never lost a game,” Saban said. “We have another class of kids on our team who have never lost a regular-season game. … They’ve been on national television 22 times, or something of the like. And they, all of a sudden, think that this is just how it is.”
It’s up to the veterans on the team, Saban said, to keep heads from swelling too big.
The final day of the coaches school is today in Huntsville, where Brad Stevens of national men’s basketball runner-up Butler will be the featured speaker along with Georgia coach Mark Fox.