Nick Saban keeps his four national championship rings on the coffee table in his office. Their purpose is to hypnotize recruits when they visit.
Talk about a sales pitch. Four sparkling pieces of jewelry just staring up at four- and five-star prospects who want to win championships and play in the NFL someday. “Want to win a national championship or two or three? Come to Alabama.” Enough said.
But there’s much more to Saban’s recruiting pitch than his coveted jewelry box. There’s something about him that clicks with the type of kid that’s meant to play for him.
“When I was getting recruited, I looked at a lot of different schools,” said center Barrett Jones, who was a four-star prospect with offers from Alabama, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida. “Every coach kind of tells you the same thing. You’re going to win championships, you’re going to have success, they’re going to make you successful as a person and a player.
“But when coach Saban sits down in your living room and tells that to your parents and looks you in the eye and lays out his plan, it’s special. I don’t know why, but you just believe him and you want to be a part of it.”
Players say one of the more attractive parts of Saban’s pitch is he doesn’t beg. He lays out his plan, tells the prospect what his role might be and basically says, “We’re going to win with you or without you.”
“[Begging] is what everybody does, so that’s different,” said former four-star prospect Damion Square, who had offers from Arkansas, Florida, Miami, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. “I guess it’s like dating. You want the woman that does something different.
“Everybody comes in and says they have to have you. He’s one of those guys that says he could really use you, but he’s going to win without you.”
Square said seconds after his first meeting with Saban, his hard-nosed grandmother told him he needed to go to Alabama.
“He came and visited my grandmother’s office at her work and we had a real good talk,” Square said. “My grandmother is a pretty straightforward person and sometimes it’s hard for people to handle her, but he handled her pretty well and when he left, she told me, ‘That’s where you need to be. That’s the best guy I’ve seen all year.’
“And she hadn’t even been to Tuscaloosa yet at the time.”
Since 2008, Alabama’s statistics are as follows: three national championships in four years, including the last two in a row, two SEC titles, 18 first-team All-Americans, 24 NFL draft picks, with 11 being in the first round. But these simple facts aren’t the only reason why kids come to play for Saban.
“The development all the way around, for life, for the workplace, for football, he just teaches you the foundation of being a good person,” Square said. “Being someone that somebody would want to hire. Someone that somebody would want to play with. Someone that somebody would want to be around. That’s always his thing. Doing what’s expected of you when it’s expected and knowing when it’s expected.”
This is where the famous “process” comes into play.
“He’s really given us a different mindset to life,” Jones said. “How to focus on the little things and how to not focus so much on results.”
Outgoing players who recalled their recruiting visits with Saban never used the word “intimidated” when describing their initial meeting. Some said they were a little nervous, but most used the word excited instead.
A wide smile crept across former four-star running back Eddie Lacy’s face when he recalled his first recruiting encounter with Saban.
“I mean, it was one of the best coaches in the world coming into our living room to talk to me about having a chance to play for his program,” said Lacy, who was named MVP of this year’s SEC and National Championship games. “He was very business-minded, got straight to the point, you know, he doesn’t beat around the bush or nothing. He just sat there and told me everything he wanted to tell me and basically I had to make my own decision.”
Added tight end Michael Williams, a former four-star prospect: “Once you talk to him, you see the person he is and you see the fire in his eyes from Day 1 that he wants to win … He’s the best coach in college football. He knows what he’s doing.”
When all is said and done on National Signing Day this year, Alabama could have the No. 1 class in the country with at least five five-star recruits, including some of the top players at their position. Nine of those players have enrolled early and plan to participate in spring drills. But as soon as everyone gets to campus, their stars will be forgotten and they’ll have to earn their way into the spotlight like all the great Crimson Tide players did before them.
But that’s how it should be, and for those who choose to play for Saban, that’s how they expect it to be.
“We have a facility full of five-star guys,” Square said. “So when you come in, you better humble yourself.”
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