You don’t win 48 games and two national championships in four years as Alabama has done under Nick Saban by being mediocre. I get that.
But I’ve had to think about his statement that “High achievers don’t like mediocre people; mediocre people don’t like high achievers.”
By definition, most of us are mediocre. That doesn’t mean we don’t have moments where we are above average. It’s a concept that is hard to grasp, in part because we all think we are smarter than we are. But as one who almost certainly is mediocre, I think I like high achievers. Covering Alabama athletics for many decades, I have known the highest of the high achievers, including Saban.
That number also includes Paul Bryant, who believed that he could coach average players to above average performance. “We don’t win because or our All-Americans,” he said. “We win because of the men who aren’t All-Americans, but don’t know it and play like they are.”
Former Alabama quarterback Ken Stabler said, “Coach Bryant always taught us we were special and never to accept being ordinary. I think that is one thing that has sustained Alabama through the years. Players with ordinary ability feeling somehow, some way, they would find it within themselves to make a play to help Alabama win a football game.”
Legendary Florida A&M Coach Jake Gaither usually gets credit for first saying that Bryant "could take his'n and beat your'n, or he could take your'n and beat his'n."
Don’t for a moment, of course, believe that Bryant didn’t have outstanding players. For the most part, "his'n" were better. Even though he said he could coach average players, he could also coach the greats, and that is the winning combination:
Good players and good coaching.
That’s what Alabama has in Saban. Even more than when Bryant took over the Crimson Tide (and in great part because of Bryant), the melding of Saban – the best college football coach -- and Alabama – the best college football program -- is the perfect storm. And just as Bryant’s players did, Bama players under Saban buy into the program.
Bryant, famously, told his first recruiting class that if they would do what he told them, they would be national champions. As seniors in 1961 they won the national championship.
In Hoover, Saban told the reporters (although, like Bryant on his Sunday television show, he was talking to his players), “Things don’t happen by accident. You don’t win a play by accident. You don’t win a game by accident. You don’t win a division by accident.
“You have to make it happen, and you have to make it happen by what you do every day.”
And Saban got to the crux of the matter with his discourse on commitment – buying into “the principles and values of the organization, and the standard you have set for that organization.”
He said, “If everyone doesn’t buy into the standard, there’s no way you can have the type of team chemistry to be successful, especially at an elite, high level.
“High achievers don’t like mediocre people; mediocre people don’t like high achievers.”
Nick Saban recruits very good players for his program. By football standards, they are high achievers, not mediocre. But Saban shows in many ways that he is interested in more than just football talent in his assessment of achievement. Alabama players under Saban must demonstrate good character. They must be willing to perform in the classroom. They must be team players in every respect.
It is for that reason that there should be little concern when a player leaves the program or when a prospect elects to play elsewhere. Saban will have high achievers.
And you’ve got to like that.