The sun shone with a seemingly new intensity in the frigid morning as it crept up above the horizon. As the long expanse of vehicles made their way down the southbound section of I-290, the road began its natural curve to the east, and that is the exact point where flowing traffic turned into stop-and-go. Blinded by the brilliance of this furious fireball in the sky, people must have forgotten they have sun visors in their cars for that exact situation.
The obligatory groan of disgust emerged from my throat as my foot moved from the gas pedal to the brake, and I began to accept that I would be late to the office. Sure, I could have cussed out all the “dumbass drivers” up ahead. I could have directed a voodoo curse on the individual who was the first person on this stretch of the highway this morning who wasn’t expecting the sun and subsequently felt the need to decelerate, causing this current turtle-pace procession. But that person had likely last been in this area 30 minutes ago, and it would do me no good. That, and I haven’t kept up with practicing my voodoo curses in a while; and you know what they say, if you don’t practice, you won’t get it right.
So I did the only thing I could, which was turn up the radio. I was listening to ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike as they interviewed recent College Football champ Nick Saban.
I do need to admit at this point that Nick Saban falls into the “dislike” category for me. Maybe it’s his seemingly arrogant attitude in interviews. Maybe it’s his constant scowl during games, or his sideline rants when something doesn’t go his way. Maybe it’s because he’s so good of a coach that he’s created an imbalance in both college recruiting and in games.
Whatever it is, he does deserve a tremendous amount of credit and respect. He has put together one of the most consistently successful college football programs. As a head coach, he has compiled a 196-60-1 record (or a 76.5 win percentage). As just the head coach of Alabama since 2007, his record is 105-18 (or a 85.4 win percentage). And that doesn’t even begin to touch on the top recruiting classes he lands year in and year out. His 5 total championships (4 in the last 7 years) puts him at #2 of the list of college coaches with the most championships (#1 is Bear Bryant with 6). All this he has done while maintaining a high graduation rate for his athletes. Depending on the report you read and the different metrics applied, Alabama ranks between #2 and #7 for NCAA football graduation rates.
It probably is noteworthy that according to an August news article by Dan Kane, the top four degrees for Alabama football athletes are Business (19 players), Exercise (17 players), Sport Science (10 players), and Communication (9 players). Now, those majors aren’t too dissimilar from other major football teams according to this spreadsheet referenced in an article by Bleacher Report. And I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on how difficult certain college majors can be as well as post-career employment for those various majors since less than 2% of NCAA football players reach the NFL.
Wait a minute, I’m pretty sure I had a point to discuss before being sidetracked by data.
Oh right, now I remember.
During the interview (here’s the direct link if you care to listen to the entire 15 minute segment), Nick Saban was discussing the next steps after Alabama’s victory. He didn’t mention sitting back and enjoying the moment. He didn’t talk about parties, trophies, or anything of the sort. No, he said they were getting ready to hit the recruiting trail three days after winning the championship and would start looking at the things they needed fix as a team.
“You don’t really think about all the other stuff. And I really don’t think about that either. You know, I’m on my way to work. We’ve got to go recruiting tomorrow. We’ve got to fix problems and issues. Like I said yesterday, the perspective is always: ‘you won the national championship, you won the game, you should be happy.’ But, if this was our first game instead of our last game, everybody would be asking a lot of questions about [giving] up 40 points, [Deshaun Watson] had over 400 yards passing. You know, there would be a lot of questions of how we played. Well, that’s how we have to look at it for the future of how we go about what we’re doing. So it’s just like I said, when you look at the scoreboard, that’s something that indicates what happened in the past. If you’re really going to have any success in this business, you always got to be looking forward.”
But…wait…he just led his team to the national championship. Isn’t that the ultimate goal? Didn’t he accomplish what he set out to achieve? What is he talking about?
At the heart of what he’s saying is: always seek improvement. Don’t be complacent with past accomplishments. Don’t rest on your laurels. Don’t settle. Whichever adage you subscribe to, the take-home message is the same.
Here’s a man sitting on top of the world. He’s just won a championship, no easy feat for sure. He has just cemented his legacy in the annals of college football and coaching history. And yet, he’s right back to work, looking for ways to get better.
My wife is a big proponent of “never settle.” It’s a phrase I work hard to keep in the forefront of my mind. But honestly, it doesn’t come as easily to me as it sometimes does to others. But I still endeavor to apply it to my everyday life when I can. It’s an ideal to strive for. You can keep that maxim in a holster, and be ready to pull it out and let it motivate you, challenge you, to help you reach for more.
And when it seems that improvement isn’t a possibility, when you feel you’ve gone as far as you can, it just takes a small perspective change to find where that improvement resides. The great illustration of this in the interview is when Nick Saban said, “if this was our first game instead of our last game, everybody would be asking a lot of questions of how we played.”
So, are you always going to be ready to apply this message to yourself and be on the lookout to improve? Probably not. But, you can strive towards that. And after all, that’s kind of the whole point of it.