It doesn’t get more intense than Nick Saban on a match day. Before and after his team’s competitions, you might see him a few times: a pre-game interview with ESPN, the Walk of Champions, his post-game press conference. Saban is focused all the time on getting the job done, but there’s a moment of lightheartedness from the hyper-serious trainer that you catch just minutes before the tide begins.
We have seen Saban released many times not to imply that the man is incapable of feeling joy. Alabama fans know better than anyone that the coach is quite a fun guy, thanks to his weekly radio show, annual lake parties, or hilarious mic clips. Just when it’s time to put on the pads for games or to improve during training, he sets the intensity.
But over the years we’ve amassed several pregame photos of Saban, seemingly at his most relaxed pre-kick-off moments when everything is at stake for his program. Focus on midfield where Saban seems genuinely happy to have a quick chat with another head coach and usually shares a big smile with the opponent of the day. Saban seems most relaxed during these conversations, even when it’s with a perceived rival or the coach of a “cupcake” team. You’ll catch a glimpse of two head coaches as they share the experience of leading their teams into competition after a week of preparation. Maybe he just enjoys talking to someone who’s doing what he’s doing, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Before the Alabama-Ole Miss game in 2021 Lane Kiffin gave Paul Finebaum and the world of college football watching, an explanation of what is actually said during those on-field encounters and greetings between coaches before the game. “They’re really irrelevant,” Kiffin said of pre-game discussions with opposing coaches. “Both people are ready for the game. It’s really just a tradition they have.
“You walk out there and he says ‘Welcome,'” he said of his conversations with Saban. “Talk about the weather. How’s everything? (I’ll ask) How’s Miss Terry? That’s all.” He continued, “I mean, what do people really think we’re talking about out there? “Hey, we’re really going to work on your safety today with some double moves.” I mean, there’s just not much to say.”
In the gallery above or the photos below, take a look at the images that document the famously focused coach taking a moment to relax and enjoy what he and his contemporary do for a living.
For starters, we’ve already seen this from Saban in 2022 with opposing coaches like Steve Sarkisian (his former assistant) from Texas or Terry Bowden from Louisiana-Monroe.
He may always have a hundred cameras on him on a game day, but Saban manages to get going before kick-off, even with former assistant and Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher. The two notably exchanged opinions on how NIL affects recruitment, with Fisher getting particularly heated, but they both insist there is water under the bridge. We’ll be looking for a similarly warm encounter on October 8 when the Aggies visit Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Who wouldn’t chuckle with Lane Kiffin, Saban’s former offensive coordinator and new rival in SEC West? As mentioned above, Kiffin insists that during the pre-game meeting, the coaches don’t discuss anything particularly important, but rather what makes Nick Saban laugh This? Maybe it’s just Kiffin, one of the funniest personalities in college football.
Even Saban’s biggest “rivals” draw a rare wink, with trainers like Gus Malzahn, Gene Chizik, Les Miles, Hugh Freeze and Ed Orgeron chuckling with the legendary trainer.
Saban doesn’t seem to mind when another coach gets the best of him on the gridiron like Dabo Swinney did (twice) on the biggest stag when Clemson coached or Kevin Sumlin did when he was Johnny Football to Bryant- Denny brought .
What really shows is the respect Saban and his opposing coaches have for each other, and the CV doesn’t matter. Coaches have a lot in common and can tell stories for days as each knows what the other is experiencing on a daily basis as they create a program and guide a group of young men at critical times in their lives. But you see the awe Saban has for coaches like David Cutcliffe, Frank Beamer and Mark Richt. Or the joy he might feel when competing against former assistants like Jim McElwain and Will Muschamp. Or the parallels he can draw with leaders of smaller programs like Mark Spier in Western Carolina (or Terry Bowden in Louisiana-Monroe, above).
More about football in Alabama:
8 “hateful competitors” who helped define football in Alabama under Nick Saban
Mike Price, Lane Kiffin, and the shortest SEC football coaching tenures in modern times
The 10 ugliest wins in Alabama football under Nick Saban
How Alabama fans hilariously interpret a Nick Saban smile