Here's my review of the new Nick Saban biography:
I just finished reading SABAN: The Making of a Coach,
the unauthorized biography of Nick Saban, written by Monte Burke. Judging from Coach Saban’s general disapproval of unauthorized biographies*, I was afraid that this book might be an overtly biased and unfairly negative caricature of the Alabama head football coach. But pleasantly, I found the book to be a fair, thorough, and highly readable examination of arguably the greatest college football coach in the game today.
Those who lack objectivity – be they Saban detractors or Saban worshippers – will find plenty of ammunition within these page to support their blindly subjective opinions of the man. But the objective reader will discover that Nick Saban is a complex human being whose success is fueled by a variety of sometimes seemingly paradoxical factors. On the one hand Coach Saban is impatient, demanding, intolerant, and impersonal. On the other hand he is compassionate, emotional, forgiving, and kind. He expects the same standards of preparation, commitment, work ethic, and attention to detail from his staff and players that he demands of himself. Thus he finds it hard to understand why others don’t work as hard, try as hard, or care as much as he does. And understandably, it's not easy to work with or play for a man with such high standards.
However, Monte Burke also shows us a side of Coach Saban that would surprise most people. This book demonstrates that Saban is not some robotic mercenary who is simply concerned about wins and losses and financial reward. We discover that Nick Saban is ultimately driven by a desire to improve people’s lives, to instill in them the values and principles that his father instilled in him – the work ethic and morals that enabled him to escape a dark life of breathing coal dust in the mines deep beneath the West Virginia earth. We learn that Saban is a man who is quick to give people second chances. We see that he goes out of his way to help troubled athletes and colleagues whose careers are faltering. We see a man who can weep with a grieving player and graciously overlook the insults and slanders of rival coaches. We find that at the root of his imperious demands and sometimes impossibly high standards there is a desire to simply help other human beings reach their full potential.
Monte Burke quotes a variety of people in this biography, from those who know him well to those who have dealt with him only briefly. To be sure, there are some very unflattering comments and strong criticisms about Coach Saban – mostly from unnamed sources. But what comes across clearly throughout the book is that the majority of players, assistant coaches, and colleagues who have accepted Saban’s demands and bought into his “Process” have nothing but praise and gratitude for his positive influence upon their lives.
This biography does not sugarcoat Saban’s controversies or gloss over his mistakes throughout the years. But it provides a balanced and unbiased assessment of the facts, leaving the reader to form his own conclusions.
Greatness is always accompanied by controversy. The most successful human beings are still human beings, and they are not immune from sins and mistakes. Monte Burke shows us that behind Nick Saban’s greatness is a man, a human being, a passionate and flawed person like all of us. But what makes him different from the rest of us is his willingness to constantly strive for excellence – not perfection, but excellence. And if we can learn anything from Nick Saban’s greatness, that is the lesson: Perfection is unattainable for any human being, but every human being can be excellent in their effort and their attitude. And that’s all that Coach Saban has ever demanded – from his players, from his staff, and from himself.
I highly recommend this book. You don’t have to be a BAMA fan or a Nick Saban fan to enjoy it. If you are at all interested in the motivation, drive, and psychology of someone who has overcome adversity, achieved tremendous success, and positively influenced countless people, then you will benefit from reading this biography. Hell, I think even Auburn fans can learn something from this book (those that can read that is.) ;-)
(* “I’m against unauthorized biographies – for anyone. There’s only one expert on my life, and that’s me.” ~ Nick Saban ~)