3 Things the Church Could Learn From Nick Saban!!

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3 Things the Church Could Learn From Nick Saban!!

Let’s establish something from the outset. I am Not an Alabama football fan. I live in Alabama, but the only team I support outside of Oakwood University is Alabama A&M University. And yes, we do play football at Oakwood….Well, it’s intramural football, but who asked. In fact, I am still avoiding sharp objects because Monday night Alabama won their fifth national championship in 9 years. I’m in pain.

I’m not a fan of Alabama football, but I am a fan of leadership excellence. For that reason I do have deep, (begrudging) respect for the Alabama program. And it occurred to me that the church could learn a lot from coach Nick Saban.  I could list several things, but let’s look at 3 things the church could learn from the coach.

First: Everything Rises and Falls On Leadership

For some, there is a simple solution for Alabama’s football success. They win because they have always won! But not so fast. Alabama has a storied history of football excellence, but they were looking painfully pedestrian in the years following the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant.

  • From 1997 to 2006 Alabama had more losing seasons than 10 win seasons.
  • Alabama didn’t have a single first round draft pick from 2001 to 2008.
  • The program was embarrassed by a recruiting scandal and severely sanctioned by the NCAA.
  • The season before Saban arrived the Tides record was 4 wins and 7 losses.

But my what a difference the right “leader” makes.

  • 9 straight years of being ranked Number 1 at some point in the season.
  • 18 first round draft picks and 29 All- Americans.
  • 5 National Championships in 10 years.

That is nothing short of amazing. I happen to consider collaborative, servant leadership to be the most effective leadership style for the local church. But that does not take away from the fact that without gifted leadership at the top, most churches, businesses, and organizations won’t reach their potential.

I regularly observe churches that were left for dead, now resurrected and restored because a different pastor was assigned there. It points up the need to carefully match church with pastor, but it also underscores the fact that no matter how gifted the congregation, good executive leadership is not a luxury but a necessity.

Second: Good Leaders Attract Good People

Nick Saban is a great coach but he has the reputation of being an even better recruiter.  As good as he is on the field, his reputation is even better in the living room of a potential recruit.  Steve Spurrier, himself a hall of fame college coach of Florida and South Carolina fame, said at the SEC Conference Media days in 2014 that Saban is the greatest recruiter in the history of college football. He’s probably right.

Over the last 10 years, Alabama has regularly had the number 1 or 2 top recruiting class. That’s talent. Young men want to play for him. They want to win. Good church leaders also seem to have a knack for attracting good people. At times those people unfortunately simply transfer in from other churches, but nevertheless, good church leaders are like magnets.

The reason is probably because good church leaders bring out the best in others. They recognize talent and more important, they train that talent. They realize that their success is directly related to the success of others. One criticism of Saban was that many of his best athletes failed to make the same splash in the NFL. But an NFL coach was quick to respond that those athletes had already received the best coaching that they would ever receive in their lifetimes- from Nick Saban. The coaching was all down-hill from there.

Third: Good Leaders Can Make the Hard Call

Real leaders distinguish themselves in a crisis. The most remarkable thing about the National Championship Game was our introduction to Tua Tagovailoa. This freshman phenom from Hawaii was the number one dual- threat quarterback coming out of high school in 2017. But that’s the point. He was in high school in 2017! This season he was patiently practicing behind starter Jalen Hurts, a phenomenal talent in his own right, who had a 27 and 2 record as Alabama starter.

But with the Tide down 13-0 at halftime, Saban pulled Hurts for the freshman quarterback. Initially the decision seemed ill-advised and a bit desperate, but it payed off big time.  I can just imagine the headlines if Alabama had gone on to lose that game. Saban would have been severely criticized and second guessed. But that’s the price that good leaders are willing to pay. They are prepared to make the tough calls and live with the results.

Gifted church leaders excel under pressure, under fire. Church members and boards are great at making suggestions, but often struggle at making decisions. Especially when decisions are hard. When decisions might upset people or challenge traditions. For that reason, many churches are literally dying for change. Good leaders provide principled but fearless leadership under pressure. They are sensitive to the persons involved, but they don’t shy away from the hard calls.

So, there it is. I said something positive about Alabama football. This might be the start of something……nah.

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