“There’s a lot of similarities between what you do, and what we’ve done,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said on Thursday. He was speaking to an auditorium full of Mercedes-Benz International workers in Vance, Alabama- but his speech wasn’t about making cars.
It was Mercedes’ annual meeting, where Markus Schafer passed the ‘steering wheel’ over to Jason Hoff as the new President and CEO of the North American Plant.
Nick Saban is a known Mercedes owner. Like a miniature rite of passage, University of Alabama students notoriously snap pictures of his black benz that sits in the same front reserved spot outside of the Mal Moore Athletic Facility. But like Santa Claus, it seems even if you waited, you never see him arrive or leave.
But on this day, Saban gave a championship pep talk. And if fans were listening, it wasn’t hard to see how much his words resonated with Alabama’s football season ahead.
In addition to the governor being there, and the introduction for the new president, a number was revealed that must have grabbed Nick Saban’s perfectionist attention. Workers at the plant had a 99.4% attendance rate. As in 99.4% of the workers at the Alabama plant have never missed a day of work.
Those of us that aren’t that perfect blushed when the number popped up on the screen. That takes mental dedication and that is what Nick Saban loves most- but he still had a word of caution.
“Why do the mighty fall?”
If you just got a chill that means you realize we are upon a new season and winning is never permanent or ensured.
Here is what the leader of the most successful college football program in modern times told people who make their living manufacturing automobiles. But if any Bama fan wanted to hear snippets of what its like in the Alabama locker room, all they had to do was listen. Especially now, as once again, Saban must focus a team that has just won 3 out of 4 national championships and tell them they’re not winning it again unless they forget that historic fact.
“Everybody says its tough to win the first championship, but it’s much tougher to win the second.”
Or in this case, the fourth.
It’s easy for young minds to run wild with the thought of possibility. Especially when the jersey they wear has been synonymous with winning for half a decade. But part of the reason Saban wins, is he knows he not only has to wrangle in the minds of football players ages 17-23, but he also must maintain the expectations of a Crimson Tide nation of all ages.
“People get satisfied, and as human beings we don’t always have our best days after our best days. We have our best days after our bad days.”
“When bad things happen, like the tornado we had here a couple yeas ago- the community came together like you couldn’t believe. People helped each other, served each other, had compassion… but sometimes when things are going well, people get more jealous and more selfish and want more, ‘what about me?’, don’t help others, don’t serve others, don’t provide good leadership, and then things don’t work out too well.”
Not only is the target on Alabama’s back growing bigger in the mind’s of opponents in the SEC and beyond, the mental toughness within the Alabama team gets harder and harder with each win.
“I think Michael Jordan says it best, ‘No matter how many game winning shots I make, the only one that matters is the next one.’ So that’s the challenge we all have. No matter how many games we’ve won in the past- 61 in the last five years, which is an NCAA record,” Saban adds and pauses to the applause of the crowd. But he puts his hands up to stop them.
So how do you continue to win? For Nick Saban, it is literally ‘simple’.
“Have a good game plan, have good preparation, be able to adjust to what happens- all that stuff is important. But it’s really a fool-proof system.”
Okay, Nick Saban. Then why hasn’t everyone figured out how to win 3 National Championships in 4 years?
“It comes from number one, being a team,” he said. “Because together everybody will always accomplish more… Because of the individual’s strength of personality, their intensity, their sense of urgency, their discipline to execute and do their job at a high standard. Everybody’s got to buy-in to the principles and values of the organization and the standard that you want it done to.”
“Cause you know what happens?” He asks the crowd but barely waits for the rhetorical question to set in.
“You can’t have teamwork if you don’t have that. Because mediocre people don’t like high achievers and high achievers don’t like mediocre people so if you let those two things co-exist on your team it’s never going to work out right. You’re never going to have team chemistry. Everyone’s got to be responsible for their own self-determination and be accountable to do their job. And that’s how everybody can trust and respect each other and that’s how you have success.”
Oh, well. If it’s that simple.
“Discipline isn’t something you have or don’t have.”
Saban’s voice echoed across the large hall as people listened intently.
“Discipline is something you choose. You choose it. It’s not God given, you do the right thing, the right way, the right time all the time- that’s a choice. It’s a choice for all of us.”
Who knew that all of us at the Mercedes plant that day would be getting a lesson in football and in life, with the backdrop of a luxury vehicle production line.
Let the countdown to kick-off begin!