Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Saban manages expectations; creeps everyone out

I meant to post on this topic yesterday, and wrote up a lot of it on Sunday, but the birth of my precious daughter yesterday interfered with those plans. Nick Saban news just didn't manage to find its way to this particular corner of the blogosphere yesterday. Many thanks to Poseur for making sure my dedicated readers had plenty of good content anyway.

Anyway, I read an article about Nick Saban in the Huntsville Times on Sunday. I have a few things to say about it. By way of introduction, I think Nick Saban is a lot of things. Some of them good; some of them bad. As the Saban-to-Bama story progresses, I'll give you my honest opinions about both. Here's a start.

The Huntsville Times

More than once during the interview, Saban moved his hands from side to side - describing the program as a unified team with the coach, the AD, the players, the waterboys, the million-dollar boosters, the sidewalk alumni who exhaust their savings for one game a year all standing side by side by side.

It's not a caste system, it's not reflective of society. Not in Saban's mind.

It's not, in his words, a "totem pole" in which one person is more or less important than another.

"The role goes sideways," Saban said, hands moving from left to right to left again. "It's all dependent on each other. It doesn't go up and down. Everybody has a role in this."

It seems, gauging from his words, that the role of fans in the success of a program is one of Saban's absolute convictions.

"We need to have all shining lights, no blinking lights," said Saban, invoking another metaphor. "I'm not talking about just football players. If the people around this place want to have a great program and win a national championship, they need to contribute to it, too, by their positive energy and how they support the program. That's what good fans do."

Nick Saban is lots of things, but I never saw him as a new age, crystal-wearing football hippie. Maybe I just wasn't looking hard enough, or maybe I was just clapping too loud to notice.

Weird quotes aside, Saban is a smart man who is doing a smart thing. Picking that segment out of context, you don't quite see what he's doing, but let's look at the next paragraph:
"If they come with the expectation next year that we're going to go 12-0 and it doesn't happen and they're all upset about it, then that's going to hurt us getting where we want to go. It's just the way it is."
Get it yet? He's doing what a presidential candidate does on the eve of state primary vote he expects to lose. He's managing expectations. He's saying, "Fourth place is a victory!"

But he's doing more than that. He's not just saying, "Don't expect me to make us go 12-0." He's not just saying, "It's not my fault if we don't go 12-0." He's saying that it will hurt the team if the fans expect a national championship. Anyone think he saw the poll I referenced in my post on Friday? (I won't entertain the thought that he saw my post). He's asking the fans to avoid high expectations, and that it is not only important to him that they expect less-than-great performance. It's important to the team.

He gets two benefits from this:
  1. The fans cut him a break about a non-great 2007 season, meaning he may forestall the inevitable "off with his head" radio call-in trends, and
  2. He gets the fans to buy in, even have some ownership in, a rebuilding season.
It doesn't hurt that he's right about fans being important to a program. My personal theory, untested though it may be, perhaps even untestable, is that excessively obnoxious fans or fans who have unreasonable expectations actually hurt a program. This is true whether it's football, basketball, baseball, or any other program that has to recruit talent and coaches. I think a rational recruit or a rational prospective coach has to look at a program and think to himself, "If these guys expect national championships, which are unlikely at almost any program, there is nothing I will be able to do to please them."

Result: recruit or coach turns them down.

Saban is doing something that helps himself (no surprise there), with the added benefit that it could even help the team.

1 comment:

Poseur said...

No problem with the content. I'm a giver.

And congrats again. What do you need me to do to make sure she does not grow up to be a Bama fan? I'm here to help!