The concept of coaches borrowing ideas and implementing systems derived from other programs that have achieved success is far from foreign.
It has been often said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” and that saying rings true in the football coaching fraternity.
In college football, Nick Saban’s Alabama program is the current model for schools aspiring to build a championship team.
Saban’s bible for success—one that was birthed under former legendary Washington coach Don James and nurtured by current Patriots coach Bill Belichick—has been tweaked and refined through years of trial and error and melted down into two words: “the process.”
Now, with a sprouting coaching tree that has spawned into college football’s version of Belichick’s staff from his Cleveland Browns days, Saban’s philosophies have been spread throughout the country as athletic directors, in essence, have been searching for clones.
However, even with his influences being felt across the nation, none of those institutions have come close to duplicating the original.
That’s because Saban’s system has taken years to perfect.
It is also why Alabama is still on college football’s mountaintop, and protégés like Mark Dantonio, Derek Dooley, Jimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp (amongst others) are still chasing the trail that Saban has blazed.
But the process—in which the main principle is teaching accountability and focusing on each of the incremental steps required to succeed in favor of solely concentrating on the end result—was not born overnight.
Saban used it to turn around programs like Toledo and Michigan State.
It was tested with mixed results at the pro level, first as an assistant with the Browns under Belichick, and then a decade later as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
It entered the SEC at the turn of the millennium and transformed LSU from sleeping giant to a powerhouse.
But the true measure of Saban's brilliance—and the fruits of his labor throughout his career—has materialized in Tuscaloosa.
Saban spent five years at Michigan State and LSU, with his win total over those periods jumping from 34 in East Lansing to 48 in Baton Rouge.
In five years at Alabama, he managed to rack up 55 wins and two national titles, with half of his 12 defeats coming in his first season in charge of the Crimson Tide.
For those waiting for traits like complacency to sink in, consider the Tide’s torrid start to the 2012 season.
With Alabama ranked No. 1 and the consensus favorite to win its third national title in four seasons, it seems as if Saban and Alabama were a match destined to happen.
Saban was successful throughout his travels, but he never planted roots long enough to see his vision reach its full potential.
Alabama was a storied program with everything in place—from rabid fan support to a strong and well-funded athletic department—except a dynamic leader that could rescue them from a decade-long funk.
Since that union came together, the rest of the college football universe has been playing catch up, and still is for that matter.
While others may try to find a way to capture the magic that Saban has brought to Tuscaloosa, they will soon learn that focusing on the results he has brought pale in comparison to the steps it takes to build a consistent winner.
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