Mentoring the Tide's new mentor
Trio of coaches who gave Saban a job say that he had his fun, serious sides
By Josh Cooper
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When asked what he remembers about Alabama football coach Nick Saban, former Michigan State coach George Perles says he recalls his legs.
Sitting in the film room, the fidgety Saban kept moving his legs back and forth as he stared at the screen dissecting the other team's offense for hours.
"He was totally dedicated, and it was pretty obvious that he was going to be very successful," said Perles, who had Saban as his defensive coordinator during 1983-87. "He was a nervous guy. He would sit with that projector and shake his legs and watch."
Perles also said he has an image in his mind of Saban hanging out with him, sitting back and drinking a beer. There were also times when the two would engage in games of paddleball.
"He is a competitor," Perles said with a laugh.
Saban described Perles as one of his mentors. Perles and two other strong influences in Saban's coaching career, Don James and Jerry Glanville, recently agreed to interview to discuss their former student, who is taking on the daunting task of returning Crimson Tide football to the nation's elite.
Glanville, the Portland State head coach and former Houston Oilers coach, said he forever links Saban with famous outlaw D.B. Cooper.
Saban worked as Glanville's defensive backs coach with the Oilers in 1988-89.
Glanville used to leave tickets for Elvis at games, hoping against hope that the King was still alive.
So, before a game against Seattle, Saban asked Glanville if he could leave tickets for Cooper instead.
In a notorious case that remains unsolved, Cooper is accused of hijacking a Boeing 727 on Nov. 24, 1971, then receiving a ransom payment of $200,000 when the plane refueled.
After the plane went back in the air, he parachuted out of the back. No trace of a body or a parachute was found.
Glanville said that a member of the FBI had to wait with the tickets, just in case Cooper showed up.
"We were just having some fun," Glanville said.
Glanville can also recount staff parties that Saban threw at his house in Houston.
The Oilers would win a few games in a row, and Saban would invite members of the coaching staff to his place for a little get together.
"He wasn't a millionaire yet, so we didn't have to treat him like one," Glanville joked.
Several years later, Glanville's son, Justin, reminded him that he had never seen a college game.
In order to rectify the situation, Jerry took him to see LSU when Saban was the coach.
"I took him to see coach Saban's team because they were coached the way they should be coached," Glanville said. "I didn't want him to see a team that didn't get after you."
Saban's greatest professional coaching influence, former Kent State and University of Washington coach Don James, sees Saban's defense and teams and understands why they play the way they do.
When Saban was a defensive back at Kent State he tried to understand the entire defense and what it was trying to accomplish.
"Guys who are interested in coaching, they do become more interested in what the whole team is doing," James said. "When I was a player, I knew I wanted to be a coach. You want to learn more about an offense or a defense."
While each of these coaches sees Saban as a success, can he coach at Alabama? An "internally driven person" as Saban describes himself, can he deal with all the externals of being Alabama's coach?
Glanville said that every day he writes the phrase "coach the football team" on a piece of paper and puts it on his desk. He said that if Saban can do the same, he should be all right.
"I don't care if you are at Alabama or Florida State, you have to coach the football team," Glanville said. "The reason I write it is because that is the most important thing. If three things come up today I always do that first."
"He knows his trade. He knows what it takes to be successful," he said. "It's the total program. You have to get good players and keep good players."
As for Perles, a bolder prediction: "He is just a very intelligent, hard working, persistent and demanding guy. He'll be the first one to tell you. He'll win and he'll win big."
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