The print issue of Sports Illustrated this week — well, make that this month since it appears the magazine will no longer be published on a regular weekly basis — contains an interesting story on the long-standing friendship of arguably the greatest NFL coach of all time and his counterpart on the collegiate level. I’m talking of course about Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and Nick Saban of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide.
Whether the two are likable is certainly a subject of some debate. But there is no denying their success. Belichick is taking his team to an eighth Super Bowl next week and has won it five times. Saban has coached six NCAA national title teams, including five at Alabama since his arrival in 2009. Incredible records for both.
The friendship between Belichick and Saban dates back to when Saban worked with Belichick’s father Steve at Navy and Belichick was a young assistant with the New York Giants. It was 1982. When Belichick got his first head coaching job with the Cleveland Browns, the first person he hired was Saban. It was 1991. Nine future NFL coaches or GMs were on that first staff and three later headed major college programs. As I was reading the SI story one section jumped out at me:
Belichick took over a team that had just gone 3-13, and suddenly the Browns’ Berea (Ohio) facility permeated with the same “Do Your Job” mantra that years later is associated with the Patriots.
“Do Your Job” … hmmm, where had I seen or heard that before, oh yeah, here.
The sign is one of three motivational posters in the Elon University football lockerroom. It’s also a mantra there for now second-year head football coach Curt Cignetti, who was an assistant to Nick Saban at Alabama and a part of the Crimson Tide staff for the national championship team in 2009. Cignetti took over the Elon football program at the start of 2017 following a 2-9 season in 2016. The 2017 Phoenix won eight games and made the FCS playoffs.
The Cignetti-Saban connection is well known and spoken of often. But apparently a connection to Saban is also a link to Belichick’s coaching philosophies.
In the upcoming winter edition of the Magazine of Elon I have a rather lengthy story on Elon’s football season in 2017, a remarkable turnaround built on a coach with a blueprint and players who believed in it.
This kind of foundation is a reason why.