Larry Burton (Syndicated Writer) The entire Saban family was shocked then saddened by the loss of a family friend Nichole Francois of Plantation, Florida, their daughter's close friend and sorority sister.
Nichole became a part of the Saban family when Nick was coaching for the NFL Miami Dolphins. His daughter Kristen Saban met Nichole when they were both freshmen together as Plantation Wildcats.
They quickly became best friends and soon spent so much time together most thought of them as sisters. They often even bought matching clothes and loved to spend time together.
And when Nick and family hastily left the Saban household in Plantation for a dash to the awaiting jet to fly off to Tuscaloosa, Nichole was with them, a guest of the Sabans, so she had to make the trip with them in a hurry and inform her parents later.
The sight of everyone's luggage in the back of Mal's hired car with the driver and Mal Moore, athletic director of Alabama, and Nick and Terry squeezed in the back seat with Kristen and Nichole must have been a sight as they dodged reporters, camera trucks, and such while dashing to the airport with a helicopter chasing them.
Kristen and Nichole never lost their friendship, and when it came time for college, the two of them pledged Phi Mu together, moved in to the same dorm, and picked everything up just as before.
But all that came to an end on August 31, just days before the opening kickoff of her second year of Alabama football and school when she was killed in an automobile accident near Opp, Alabama as she was driving back to the university, lost control of her car, and hit another vehicle.
She was the only one in the accident that suffered a fatality.
And though that weekend kicked off another football season with a big win, the Saban family was heartsick with the loss of wonderful girl and a close friend.
For Coach Saban, who realized that his own daughter could have easily been in the car with her, it was a time to reflect upon the things in his life that were more important than football.
He and his daughter must have hugged each other extra special as they repeated a long-standing tradition of her coming to bring him a lucky penny before each game.
When Mal Moore relayed this story, you could see the sorrow on his face and hear the emotion in his voice, because his quick meeting and flight to Tuscaloosa will forever be a part of his life, too, and he was as touched by her as everyone that met her.
For the Sabans, life goes on, but with a small void that may always be there.
This was a young woman who chose to come be part of Kristen's life again, part of the family again, and part of Alabama Nation. We all come from different destinations, but all bathe in the same warmth of family.
Though I never never knew Nichole, I am saddened by her loss, saddened that one of the youngest of us was taken too soon. That someone so intertwined by fate in the history of Nick Saban's hiring is not with us to continue to see him work his magic also saddens me.
This weekend I will think of Nichole when I enter the stadium. I'll look out from the press box to the section where she would no doubt be seated and say a quick prayer for her, then I'll smile, because that's she would have wanted people to do when they thought of her.
She will always be that young, excited high school girl to me that had to run off and fly with the Sabans to Tuscaloosa, and now you can share that same memory of her.