On Monday, I revealed that, because of my susceptibility to human weakness, Nick Saban could never love me. Perhaps it is no surprise that the Alabama coach finds little to love in middle-aged non-athletes. I contrasted this with the good news of the Gospel, that God loves me even though I bring nothing to the table to merit his favor. Everything required of me has already been done by another.
The Gospel can only be good news, though, if I have recognized that I am unworthy of it. Water only tastes good to someone who is thirsty, after all, and if I am honest about my sin, I know that I will never be able to relate to a perfect God on the basis of my own righteousness. So if any love is going to come my way, it will have to be given, not earned or leveraged. Indeed, the more I try to perfect myself—the more I try to keep the Ten Commandments, the more I try to help my neighbor—the more self-centered I inevitably become, as self-righteousness and the need for applause becomes the driving force behind my actions.
Nick Saban might suggest that I have it all wrong. Excellence, Saban seems to say, is within your grasp if you just work hard enough and stay committed to The Process. Indeed, Saban has convinced numerous young athletes to buy into The Process and has transformed them into champions. Could I, too, be transformed into a champion?
Maybe. Maybe if I buckled down, I could become a better writer or a better lawyer or a better father. Maybe I could sustain my success for weeks or months or years. But eventually my focus would stray, and I would begin to assess my accomplishments, pad my resume, and delight in the adulation of those around me.
But Nick Saban is not like me. Recently, Saban was the subject of a GQ article written by lifelong Alabama fan (and possible doppelgänger) Warren St. John. According to the subtitle, “Warren St. John spent three weeks on Nick Saban’s trail—and a couple of days in his face—on a mission to find the soul of the scariest man in college football.”
St. John doesn’t say whether he found Saban’s soul, but he did find that, in the days immediately following Alabama’s 2012 national championship victory, Saban grumbled that the game cost him a week of recruiting. That wasn’t the only time Saban reacted strangely to a national championship victory. In 2013, he gave us this picture:
St. John himself testifies to another revealing incident. After Saban gives a speech to the Alabama Boys’ State convention, he is walking to his car:
Just before he reaches his Mercedes, Saban is approached by an Alabama fan who wants to thank the coach for signing a football for his son. It meant so much to the boy, the man says. Saban gives the man a confused look, as if not comprehending how this large animate object had suddenly appeared in his path, and gets in the car without saying a word.
It could be that St. John is exaggerating. Or it could be that Nick Saban is simply not like me. I like to think I would be overjoyed by coaching a team and winning a national championship. Indeed, there are legions of Alabama fans who have never been to college or played a down of football who consider Alabama’s national championships to be their greatest achievements. Nick Saban, though, seems to care nothing for his earthly accomplishments or the praise of his fellow men, focusing only on The Process itself.
Has Saban’s devotion to The Process freed him from weakness and regret? We’ll look at that question in the final installment.