Why do Nick Saban and Urban Meyer dominate college football?

Nick Saban and Urban Meyer

If you were to ask me, after my three-year study of Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, what enables them to categorically dominate the college football world, I would reply that it has something to do with ankle flexibility and lavender shirts. Also, it has something to do with Pilates and chained garbage cans. It has something to do with forgetting your birthday and tutoring math students. And, of course, it has something to do with nightmares and color-coding. I should add that it has something to do with former mafia members and frat houses. At the same time, it has something to do with time zones and soggy hot dog buns. Finally, it has something to do with karate and air mattresses.

The Big Question

Three and a half years ago, after Alabama won the BCS national championship over Texas – which meant that either Nick Saban or Urban Meyer had won the national championship in four of the past seven years – I began an extensive research project to learn what separated those two leaders from their peers. In the intensely competitive field of college football – in which the resources invested in winning are virtually limitless and the tolerance provided for losing is essentially nonexistent – I wanted to know: What enables Saban and Meyer to categorically dominate their competitors?

Three Years Later

Three and a half years (and two BCS national championships for Saban) later, I learned that, if I want to attract elite talent to my organization, I ought to communicate less like a smooth politician and more like a critical spouse. I learned that, if I hope to outmaneuver my competitors, I would be better off tossing aside my case study on General Electric and turning on a documentary about the CIA. I learned that, if I aspire to become a leader in my field, I should stop worrying about getting promoted and start thinking about demoting myself.

Surprising Findings

The unexpected array of insights I uncovered about college football’s most prolific head coaches was the result of a deep analysis by my research team of all 40 head coaches who have won at least one BCS bowl game. As we progressed through our analysis, four prominent themes emerged that, to our surprise, were plainly common to both Saban and Meyer, but scantily manifest among their 38 venerable contemporaries. The first theme related to the degree of expertise both leaders bring to their work. The second related to the degree of focus both leaders engender among their players. The third related to the degree of control both leaders exercise over their programs. The fourth related to the degree of commitment with which both leaders pursue their objectives.


I should clarify that the four aforementioned themes were present – to some extent – in all 40 programs we studied. However, they were more conspicuous between Saban and Meyer because of the depth at which they apply them. To illustrate the concept of depth in this context, within the theme of expertise, we found that Saban disqualifies recruiting prospects because of how high their heels are raised in a three-point stance. Within the theme of focus, we found that Meyer requires academically distracted players to wear hand-me-down team apparel. Within the theme of control, we found that Saban creates psychological profiles for all of his players to maximize his influence on them. Within the theme of commitment, we found that Meyer locked himself in his office minutes after winning a national championship to call recruits.

Principles of Dominance

The four themes translated into four shared characteristics; specifically, we concluded that both Saban and Meyer’s dominance is the natural consequence of their distinction as expert performers, focus engineers, big brothers and perfection chasers. Furthermore, our findings indicated that each characteristic is the product of a unique set of four surprising principles applied by both coaches. Because of our conclusion that the application of these sixteen principles enables Saban and Meyer to dominate their competitors, we came to call them the principles of dominance.

The Analogy

One day, as we contemplated the relationship between the principles of dominance and the significant imbalance of championships created by these two magnates, a member of our team offered an analogy between the modern era of college football, which features a small minority of individuals who categorically dominate their field, and the emerging industries of the Gilded Age, which featured oil magnate John D. Rockefeller and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.

Crystal Magnates

Because in six of the past ten years either Saban or Meyer has been awarded the crystal football that symbolizes a national championship victory, and because they are the only head coaches to have elevated the crystal over their heads multiple times, we came to call them the crystal magnates. Like their predecessors in oil and steel, the crystal magnates are special leaders whose characteristics and underlying principles can teach us what it takes to dominate a field.

To learn more about Truman Alexander's new book, Crystal Magnates: Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and the Principles of Dominance, check out the book's Amazon page:

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