As a coach of our beloved Alabama Crimson Tide, Nick Saban attracts a fair share of descriptive adjectives and certainly "bold" has been one cast in his direction on occasion. It seems to miss the mark somehow, particularly when there are terms like "ruthless," "calculating" and "autocratic" floating around just begging to modify the singular noun in question.
Still, "bold" is a word that comes to mind naturally when describing coaches. There’s a certain duality to the term – circumscribing equal parts bravery and rashness – that seems fitting of a game requiring unwithering confidence in the face of relentless adversity the game of football can present – both within the lines of the gridiron and beyond the field of play itself.
Typically, the conception of a "bold" coach is one that takes reasonable risks that regularly pay off. If the risks he takes don't pay off he's called "unemployed." If they do work out and he takes even more bizarre risks, then he's called "Les Miles."
For Coach Saban, the risks involved are only acceptable as long as you have mitigated as much uncertainty as possible without losing the ability to retain their rewards. That's not quite the rashness the conventional sense of the term "bold" implies.
For example, "bold" would seem to be having the cajones to let your quarterback face the unhindered attack of a very large, very fast cornerback with very bad intentions on the hope he can get the screen pass off to the halfback in time. For the fan at home it certainly seems like a risky gamble – a sensation that certainly adds to the excitement when it works to perfection, like so.
Yet this isn’t really boldness. It’s cold calculation in its most frigid form. Or, as Smart Football's Chris Brown describes it, a constraint offense working just like it is supposed to. You play your regular methodical offense waiting for the opportunity the defense presents you and, when it arrives, you take advantage of it. Not a lot of recklessness involved at all.
Take another example. With the undefeated season on the line, 90 seconds on the clock and needing six points to put the game away what is the right play to call? Do you go with the proven power at running back moving behind the massive momentum of the Mountain known as Cody or bet the farm on a play action fake to backup a tailback who had only seen the end zone once the whole season ?
Bold? Certainly looks that way but, again, it’s a play that makes sense given the familiarity with the personnel involved. Yes, Upchurch had one touchdown before that one in 2009 but it certainly augured well for the situation at hand. All that time in the summer putting the team together, studying in the film room and patiently assessing every option available is the key to the success, not the sudden inspiration of calling No. 5’s number.
Then where is the bold? It’s in the process itself. If you peruse Coach Saban’s book, How Good Do You Want To Be? there are whole sections where he discusses the importance of dominance, putting fear in the opponent. Or, as Coach Saban phrases it, "create a nightmare for your opponent."
When we step on the field, we want to so greatly dominate our opponents in every phase of the game that they walk off the field at the end saying to themselves, "I never want to play [that team] again."
From the players’ standpoint, it changes the outlook – from the score to the individual responsibility. If each player dominates the player he is going against, then the team will dominate.
That, my friends, is being bold; playing each and every game exuding the absolute conviction you will dominate your opponent for a full four quarters. Individually and as a whole. That brand of boldness is the hallmark of a Nick Saban team and its part of the method put in place to create the team itself – the conditioning, the rules, the drills… the whole of the process itself.