In discussion of the necessity for a coach to adapt to the strengths of his personnel, he shared a story of his high school days.
The lesson came in tough circumstances, when Saban was a 15-year-old quarterback playing on the road in a game Monongah had to win to make the state playoffs.
“You had to go through the graveyard to get to the field,” Saban described the atmosphere. “In this coal mining town, everyone went to the game. Lights are bad, fights breaking out in the stands, the guys (in the stands) all yelling at me because they all bet on the game and they’re telling me how many points they gave and what I need to score.
“I was just a sophomore, 15 years old, and I called the plays. My coach was a really good coach – we only had two – and he was like coach of the year in West Virginia about eight times. But the quarterback called the plays.”
Saban said Monongah got kicked in the first half, falling behind by 18-0.
“We came back in the second half and got back in the game, making it 18-12, and then we got the ball back with 1:27 to play. We go down the field and it’s fourth and 12 at the 20 with 15 seconds to play.
“And Coach calls time out, and I’m so received, because I said, ‘He’s going to call the play!’ So I jog over to the sidelines. And he said, ‘Young Nicky, what do you think?’ And I said, ‘I think you should call the play.’
“And he said to me, ‘Look, your left halfback is the best player in the state and your split end has made all-state three years in a row, so I don’t care what play you call, but one of those two guys better bet the ball.’
“So I called 26 crossbar pass, two back in the six hole, X post corner, and I threw it, the guy caught it, and we won.
“I never forgot that. It’s not about the play – and he said this after the game – it’s not about the plays, it’s about the players.
“So how does a coach decided to use his players relative to their skill set and what they can do.
“You have to figure that out, and when you have new players, that’s the part that’s not always clear.”