Vogler says Saban has a ‘presence’
By MICHAEL CASAGRANDE
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Over the years, Nick Saban’s reputation never painted him as the happy-go-lucky football coach like Bobby Bowden.
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Stern — downright grumpy at times — comparisons typically involve close friend Bill Belichick. After all, Saban’s famous for a viral video in which he made a NFL player cry in his stint with the Dolphins.
So how does he consistently wrangle top recruiting classes with the sometimes-sour face seen by the public?
It’s simple really.
The frown disappears and the smiles emerge as a different persona appears when the Alabama football coach steps in the living rooms of prospective recruits.
Whatever he’s doing, it is working.
Alabama is on the verge of finalizing its third straight top-five recruiting class when national signing day arrives Wednesday.
Those who’ve seen Saban’s recruiting up close and personal describe a much different coach than the one who throws headsets. Former Crimson Tide tight end Colin Peek went so far as to say one meeting with Saban left him “smitten.”
He’s genuine; others say — concerned more with post-football success more than anything else.
That’s hardly unique in the cutthroat world of recruiting.
But there’s just something different about Saban’s approach, said Brian Vogler, a tight end from Brookstone, who committed to the Tide over the summer and will sign Wednesday.
“Some coaches, you get really excited to talk to,” the tight end said. “Other ones, not so much. Whenever you’re talking to coach Saban, you’re really excited and just happy to be able to talk to him.”
Football is only an occasional topic of conversation during a typical recruiting visit. Academics and life after the game is just as important.
Mark Mariakis, the high school coach of current Alabama freshman Michael Bowman remembers the day his star receiver returned from a visit in Tuscaloosa. It was “a no-brainer” after speaking with Saban.
“I was impressed that he was concerned with Mike as a man and what he’s going to do after graduation,” Mariakis said. “That really impressed me. I hear a lot of coaches and it was impressive to hear a coach genuinely care about a player.”
For Vogler, getting an MBA in four or five years is the objective. His father, Ron Vogler, also heard the sincerity in Saban’s voice when he spoke about schoolwork. As a veteran of the corporate world, the elder Vogler said Saban had a special “presence” and that he certainly fit the mold as the CEO of Crimson Tide football.
“When he speaks,” said Ron Vogler, a former football player at the Naval Academy recruited by Belichick’s father Steve. “You listen.”
No adjective fit Saban better than stoic, he said.
His son, however, cracked the code and found a few jokes that made Saban laugh.
“He’s a nice guy,” Brian Vogler said. “He laughs, smiles just like anybody else.”
The “nice guy” Saban made a cameo appearance in the hit movie “The Blind Side” where he improvised with his own recruiting spiel when the script didn’t follow his natural routine.
Sitting in a movie theater this fall, Vogler said he leaned over and told a friend Saban’s toothy role as a recruiter was spot-on.
As one of the most recruited tight ends in the country, Vogler saw plenty of other recruiting tactics. He was in Knoxville last spring when Tennessee assistant coaches famously ripped off their T-shirts in a moment he called “awkward.”
By July after several visits with Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, he was ready to commit to Alabama. But that hasn’t stopped the efforts of competing schools.
As recently as a few weeks ago, Notre Dame was pushing Vogler to visit South Bend. Others such as Tennessee, Kentucky, Miami (Fla.) and LSU continued recruiting him after the commitment, but he never wavered.
There was little any coach could do to lure Athens, Ala., product William Ming away from Alabama. The lifelong Tide fan had a favorite from the beginning, but Saban gave him the same attention as the rest before signing last February.
Ming’s father, Bill Ming called Saban more than sincere, mostly serious although the family found the way to the coach’s heart. When it was time for the house call, the Mings had Little Debbie oatmeal cakes waiting after research revealed they were a Saban favorite.
He ate two and left quite an impression on the recruit’s father.
“(Saban) is so committed,” Bill Ming said. “It just comes natural. It’s kind of like someone who has a natural voice that can sing. I think this is just the way coach Saban is wired. And to him, it’s not work. It’s just the way it is supposed to be done.”
His presence can be intimidating, even to highly recruited prospects.
Basketball practice at Brookstone came to a brief standstill when Saban walked through the gym doors last winter to see Vogler.
Deshler senior Deion Belue another of Alabama’s committed players for the class of 2010 said it took two visits before his nerves dissolved.
“It was weird because seeing him on TV and stuff and you know what he can do,” Belue said. “It just made me real, real nervous because there is no telling what he is going to say to me.”
Only Auburn’s Gene Chizik brought out the same recruiting room anxiety in Belue, but it was Saban’s Alabama program where he felt at home.
By Wednesday, his scholarship paperwork will be official along with as many as 27 others.
Another top class for Saban. Nervous or smitten, the top recruits keep signing.
A personal touch, for Saban, beats perception on the trail.