Before becoming one the most successful head coaches in college football history, Nick Saban worked as an assistant under Bill Belichick in Cleveland: as the Browns’ defensive coordinator he worked alongside Belichick from 1991 through 1994. Along the way, Saban was able to get an insight into the mind of the man who would later become the most successful head coach in NFL history with the New England Patriots.
Recently, Saban shared some of the knowledge he acquired while coaching for Belichick’s Browns in the early ‘90s. “Sometimes players are kind of depending on that reinforcement all the time in practice, but in the game there’s no coach out there. I just coached like that when I was an assistant,” the six-time national champion told reporters when speaking at the opening of Alabama’s spring scrimmage last week.
“We’d have a scrimmage at the Cleveland Browns and Belichick would chew my butt out,” continued Saban, who left Cleveland after the 1994 season to take over as head coach at Michigan State. “It’s like ‘let the players play.’ And I was like ‘wow, I never had my butt chewed out for coaching, teaching.’ But I have to say the same thing sometimes to our coaches now.”
“There’s a time when you just gotta let the players play because in the game, they gotta know what to do, they gotta know how to do it, they can’t depend on somebody else to make a call for them, they can’t depend on somebody else to recognize things for them,” Saban said about Belichick’s reasoning behind his philosophy. The long-time coach, who won five national titles since joining Alabama in 2007, said that he also used the same approach in his own practice sessions nowadays.
Belichick himself has spoken numerous times about the value of having smart players on the field. Back during the 2009 playoffs, for example, he praised wide receiver Randy Moss for his ability to diagnose plays and coverage patterns relative to what coaches may or may not see from the sidelines. This emphasis on football intellect is, of course, one of the driving factor behind the Patriots’ personnel moves — whether it is trading for a player like Moss, drafting Dont’a Hightower, or giving Tom Brady virtually free rein to make decisions.
You can watch Saban’s anecdote about Belichick’s coaching philosophy here:
Nick Saban with a quick story about getting chewed out by Bill Belichick for coaching too much.— Danny Schaechter (@CoachDShack) April 4, 2019
His message to Saban: “Let the players play.” The mantra of ABC (Always Be Coaching) can hinder players’ ability to succeed on game day ( @bamainsider). pic.twitter.com/ReqT8Eq0XI