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Recruits see side of Nick Saban that fans, media rarely experience

Nick Saban
Nick Saban (Getty Images)

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LAKE BUNA VISTA, Fla. - Nick Saban led Daniel Wright around the corner of his Tuscaloosa home. He opened his garage door with the press of a button, took a seat behind the wheel of his black, two-door Mercedes and revved the engine as if he were a character in a 70s greaser movie.

In this moment, Saban ceased being a celebrity coach. Here, he was a child proud of his newest toy.

Wright, a four-star Alabama commit, points to the anecdote as the moment he realized there was more to Alabama’s head coach than his reputation as a humorless football robot that cares about nothing outside of the sport he coaches. Turns out, there’s more to Saban than championship rings and public snips at reporters.

In fact, his private recruiting moments are the inverse of his public persona.

“Coach Saban is funny, man,” Wright said. “He came in to my house on the visit and offered to take my grandma to his church. He’s going to do it, too. She’s actually going up there to go to church with him.”

The Saban recruiting experience is nuanced. There’s plenty of football talk and coaching clichés. One player at this week’s Under-Armour All-America Game compared Saban with a philosopher. That part of Saban has been documented ad nauseam. The rides around his farm on off-road vehicles are lesser known.

“He has about 10 4x4s on his land,” said Tennessee commit Trey Smith, who was recruited by Saban before choosing the Vols. “We drove them across his farm. It’s nice. He has land and a lake. He stopped and threw some food into one of the lakes and, like, 20 of them came up to eat.”

Then, there are the stories. Saban’s house features a grand piano in a prominent position. It’s as much a conversation piece with recruit as it is a musical instrument. Talking about the piano is talking about the coach’s roots.

LSU commit JaCoby Stevens remembers the conversation well. He didn’t choose Saban or his program, but the piano is one he says he won’t soon forget.

“He says he bought that piano for his wife before he got a coaching job,” Stevens said. “He took a risk. Then, he got the job and paid it all off. This was before he was even a coach. He was telling me that he used to work on a dock. My dad is a truck driver, so he was telling me that he used to work on the dock loading the trucks before he became a coach. That’s when he got the piano.”

Saban doesn’t cook. At least not for prospects that visit his home. He caters in food when he leads recruits on a house tour. There’s no 'Kiss The Cook' apron or grill out back. Everything is a pitch. Everything is calculated.

To find out Saban has what he calls a “recruit lounge” in his home, is to know the scope of his dedication to the job. The man hasn’t built an 118-18 record at Alabama by happenstance.

“Yeah, it’s a recruit lounge. That’s actually what he calls it,” said four-star athlete Deangelo Gibbs, an uncommitted prospect being pursued by Alabama. “He has everything in there. There’s just pictures of the team winning. He has his championship jewelry in there. There are trophies. Everything you ever dreamed of winning as a football player is in there.”

According to Wright, Saban’s home also features a pool table that looks to be lightly used. There’s what Stevens categorizes as “fine art” all over the abode. But even the soft side of Saban, the side geared toward making high school players want to play for his program, sometimes comes with a disclaimer.

“I think he has some interests outside of football,” Gibbs said. “But when it’s in season, it’s strictly football. For a few months, there is nothing else in the world but football. He’s everything everyone thinks he is, but he’s not, if that makes sense. He’s a normal guy, but he has that reputation because he wants it.”

Smith ties the two Saban personas together with a simple sentence. There’s nuance in Saban, sure. There are also common threads.

“I’ll put it like this, whether he’s talking football or joking or talking about anything, when he talks, you listen.” Smith said.