Different styles but similar success for Nick Saban and Mack Brown

Jan 6 2010 - 10:56pm

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- A window into the world of Nick Saban opened Monday when BCS officials passed out a memo about Alabama's media availability, which went like this:

Practice will be open for approximately seven (7) minutes for video-photographers at 1:20 p.m.

There will be an additional eight minutes of open practice for video-photographers at 2:40 p.m.

Hey, Kirby Smart: Do you guys really live on a twenty-four (24) hour script?

"We don't get an itinerary every day," the Crimson Tide's defensive coordinator said, then paused.

"We work almost every minute of the day."

This is the popular notion of what it's like to work and play under the auspices of Nick Saban, who plays bad cop to Mack Brown's good cop for the BCS title game on Thursday.

From the outer rim of media scrums this week, you can guess the analogies coming. If this were a '60s sit-in, Mack would be a tree-hugger and Nick the guy with the night-stick. If they were best-selling authors, Mack would be Dale Carnegie and Nick, Norman Mailer. If they were military figures, Nick would be General Patton; Mack, Captain Kangaroo.

Of course it's mostly hyperbole. You don't win a national title and build an annual contender without qualities both tough and tender. Otherwise, no one would play or work for you long. Even Bear Bryant had a soft side, although it took the Junction Boys decades of peeling back enough bark to find it.

For that matter, both Nick and Mack would make great CEOs. But they'd certainly have different boardroom styles.

Take the personal approach. Mack is a touchy-feely kind of guy. He'll pat your arm, call you by name, basically treat you like a fellow human being.

Meanwhile, you hear stories about how Saban has told secretaries not to speak to him unless they're spoken to. Or the time he berated a staffer for buying the wrong kind of Little Debbies. Or the time he sent a private jet to Michigan State for any staff members who wanted to join him at LSU, and the plane came back empty.

Even those who don't buy the "Nick Satan" tales concede that he can be, well, a little robotic.

Or as Alabama's terrific middle linebacker, Rolando McClain, put it, "He ain't too happy."

Not even after beating Florida?

"As soon as he got on the plane," McClain said, "he was already watching film."

And McClain likes him.

"Coach Saban made me who I am," he said. "He pretty much taught me everything I know."

Influenced by his years under Bill Belichick, Nick has no tolerance for anything that doesn't directly aid his cause. He calls himself process-centered, not goal-oriented, meaning he doesn't care what he's accomplished, only what will make his product better today.

And he doesn't think he can get it by playing nice.

"When he's yelling at you or upset," tight end Colin Peek said, "he's just trying to make you better."

On the other hand, Mack has a reputation as a softie. NFL scouts have said as much about some of his players. When Alabama's offensive coordinator, Jim McElwain, talked about Texas' speed and attitude on defense, he quickly added that it comes from Texas' defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp.

And Muschamp says he wouldn't be where he is if not for Nick Saban.

Still, Muschamp notes Mack's similarities with his former boss: intelligent, tough, hard-nosed, hard on his coaching staff.

"But in a good way," he added, meaning they're allowed conjugal visits, maybe.

Coaches aren't always what they seem. Lou Holtz was quick with a quip, but he wasn't funny to his staff or players. No coach was more congenial in public than the late Jim Wacker, and he used to fire his assistants at halftime and hire them back before the bands were finished. Bill Yeoman's saltiest language on camera was "golly gee Ned," but he usually managed something stronger for yours truly.

What matters in all walks of life is remaining true to yourself, as long as you know what the heck you're doing. Otherwise, you could do worse than mimicking Nick or Mack. Both roads lead to the same place, anyway.

 

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