Ever hear the one about that time Nick Saban was
Alex Scarborough, ESPN
- Personnel WriterJan 10, 2024, 07:00 PM ET Close Covers the SEC.Joined ESPN
- in 2012.
- Graduate of Auburn University.Editor’s note: A variation of this
story initially ran Aug. 19, 2016. It has been republished following news that Nick Saban will retire.It’s the day before New Year’s Eve in Memphis, Tennessee, and nobody from Ohio State wants what’s about to occur. The team that connected for the Big Ten championship and is ranked 15th in the AP Survey has actually in some way wound up stuck in the 1981 Liberty Bowl. The match versus unranked Navy isn’t motivating. The weather condition isn’t even good: 30 degrees at kickoff with rain on the method. The training personnel can see it in a few of the players ‘eyes that they don’t want to be there, struggling to find their footing, slipping on the turf in addition to their pride.A long season will get longer. Ohio State is supposed to beat Navy smoothly, but it doesn’t exercise that way. The Buckeyes’struggling young secondary hits a new low, enabling an offense that could not muster more than 50 passing backyards per game during the regular season to generate 240 yards and two touchdowns through the air. A blocked punt and three fumbles conserve the Buckeyes from humiliation. Final rating: Ohio State 31, Navy 28. Coach Earle Bruce is currently fuming over his team’s careless play as he leaves the field when he sees that his protective coordinator, Dennis Fryzel, is speaking with press reporters. Protective line coach Steve Szabo would later on call it the straw the broke the camel’s back. Bruce storms into the locker room, throwing things, yelling, “That’s it! It’s over! It’s done!”It’s sometime around 2 a.m. when the group makes it back to Columbus. Just the coaches are summoned back to the office at 8 a.m. for a meeting. Thirty seconds in, Bruce breaks the news: the whole defensive personnel is through. Everyone is shocked. After all, as linebackers coach Bob Tucker put it, “We ‘d just won a bowl game “and completed 9-3. Nick Saban has just been fired for the first time in his profession. He’s unexpectedly a 30-year-old, jobless protective backs coach. He has a steadfast work principles, a mind for intricate protections and an eye
for examining talent, yet he has nowhere to use it.It won’t stay that way for long. The greatest college football coach of his generation will never deal with the slicing block again. * * * Nick Saban was currently on his 4th coaching stop by the time he arrived at Ohio State in 1980. Defensive planner Dennis Fryzel, an old good friend from their Syracuse days, and offending planner Glen Mason, whom he had actually gotten to know on the recruiting path, had actually pitched coach Earle Bruce to bring him on. He was intense, they told Bruce, and an excellent recruiter, the ideal man to replace Pete Carroll, who had actually just left to become protective coordinator at N.C. State.Defensive line coach Steve Szabo remembers Saban well. At that time, all the protective assistants shared a workplace. Saban wasn’t extremely outbound, Szabo stated, but he could see that he took coaching seriously. He and linebackers coach Bob Tucker would joke that while they talked to Saban they could
feel he was “calculating something else.”He was continuously working the phones, calling NFL pals to talk store. One such pal was Costs Belichick, an assistant with the New york city Giants. Today, Nick Saban is at the top of his occupation. But back in 1981, he was fired for the very first and only time in his training career. Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports Mason still admire how Saban was on the cutting edge. The Cover 2 was the trend and Saban was setting up multiple appearances within the defense that provided Mason fits. What appeared like a blitz wasn’t. Cover 2 would become a Cover 3 in the blink of an eye. However what Mason valued most was Saban’s capability to identify talent. Firing up
the old 60mm movie, he ‘d say,”Nick, take a look at this guy and inform me what you think.”Saban would study the tape and Mason would always follow his recommendation.”And he was always right,”Mason stated.”To be rather sincere with you, it was things I didn’t think about, didn’t see or didn’t examine. “Although Ohio State went 9-3 in 1980 and the defense gave up a reputable 162 passing lawns per game, the ground was shifting. The middle and bottom of the Big 10 was ending up being more of a passing league. During a 49-42 win over Illinois, the Buckeyes enabled 621 lawns through the air.What’s more, the secondary was anticipated to get in rebuilding mode the next season. In the group’s own media guide, the defensive backfield was referred to as”completely brand-new.” The situation was”additional clouded “by the loss of among its most skilled returnees, Rod Gorley, who had knee surgery, it read. Versus Stanford in Week 3, the defense enabled 280 passing lawns and 2 touchdowns to some quarterback called John Elway. The next week, Florida
State tossed for 299 backyards and 2 goals in a 9-point loss, the first of the season.Tucker said the workers in the secondary didn’t match the changing requirements on defense. A staff conference late in the year ended in what Tucker described as “misconception”between Saban and Bruce over hiring tactics. “Of course, every high school coach in America has another Jack Tatum– a strong security, a hitter,” Tucker said. “Well you have eight Jack Tatums and you’re on the ropes. Nick’s message was,’ Let’s get some Tim Andersons– some more pass defenders since this thing is changing. ‘”I comprehended what Nick was saying, and I’m uncertain the head coach did.”What’s more, Saban pushed to install more advanced defenses and Bruce wasn’t eager to play ball.Meanwhile, there was a growing friction between Bruce and Fryzel. The 2 were buddies, however miles apart in terms of personality. Where Bruce was more buttoned up, Szabo stated Fryzel went by the “seat of his trousers. “Fryzel was ending up being a second voice of the program and that didn’t sit well with Bruce, Tucker stated.”I’m trying to state this diplomatically,” Mason said, calling it a circumstance that intensified out of control.”There was a working relationship problem with Denny and Earle.
“Said Szabo:”Nick was included the mix because he outwardly was more loyal to Denny.”As the season went on, Tucker remembers the newspapers”blasting us.”Then the leaks featured things showing up in journalism that should have remained in staff meetings, Szabo recalled. Bruce’s response was to shut down assistants from talking with reporters.Fryzel broke the embargo at the wrong time after the Liberty Bowl. All three former assistants who spoke for this story concurred that Bruce was acting on feeling when he stormed into the locker room that night and fired the defensive staff the next early morning.”It was collateral damage, “Mason stated.” It wasn’t because the secondary wasn’t playing well, [Saban] wasn’t recruiting well or he wasn’t doing his task well. “Saban didn’t state anything when it occurred. He didn’t throw anything or pout.Later that day, Bruce offered to maintain Tucker. Tucker said he appreciated it when Saban told him,”You have to remain. You have a household.”Saban right away moved on. He was material, according to Szabo.The set went to a coaches convention less than two weeks later. Saban already worked lined up to join Belichick’s father on the staff at Navy.All these years later on
, Tucker keeps in mind choosing Bruce up at the airport after a journey to Hawaii for the Hula Bowl. The dust had finally settled. In the cars and truck, he said Bruce asked him,”Why did I do that? “* * * 7 championship games later on, Saban stands alone, perhaps the very best college football coach of his generation.And if you think he’s forgotten his departure from Ohio State, reconsider. When Saban was asked about what he gained from the whole experience, he initially mentioned that the whole staff was release, not just him. “It was a little bit of a crazy offer,”he said,”however I recall more on the mistakes that I made instead of blaming someone else.”He might be a grandfather now with some grey around the ears, but Saban
remembers all of it. He keeps in mind going on Bruce’s TV program after they beat Michigan. He remembers the game, the three freshmen and a sophomore who started in the secondary. He fondly recalls shutting down Michigan’s All-America receiver to the tune of three passes for 17 yards.(Anthony Carter had 4 catches for 52 backyards, however close enough.) A month later on, he keeps in mind being fired. “What it made me understand is that you have to work to please the individual that you’re working for,”he discussed.”I really recall at all of the things that I did, the errors that I made– and even in some cases if you’re right– it’s not worth it to be right. “Fryzel has since passed and Bruce is retired, recovering well from a stroke he sustained last year.Tucker, Szabo and Mason are all out of coaching.All of them could tell that Saban had what it took to be a head coach all those years earlier, however none could have known he ‘d accomplish this.” Who wouldn’t be amazed?”Mason stated.”Not just did he have success, he’s had legendary success. I’m uncertain how– and I’ve been around a lot of excellent coaches– however I don’t understand how you have the ability to say,’Oh, I knew he ‘d win a champion at LSU and numerous ones at Alabama.’
It’s a best storm. You put a guy that’s on the cutting edge of recruiting and coaching and works tremendously difficult and put him at a school that has the ability to do those type of things. However still it’s extraordinary the success he’s had.”Tucker laughed when he reviewed all of it, how Pete Carroll resulted in Nick Saban and Nick Saban resulted in Dom Capers at Ohio State.It’s funny how it works. Carroll has actually won titles in both college and the pros.
Capers was a Super Bowl-winning defensive organizer
with the Packers. Saban has actually won seven college national championships. Yet they were all fired at one point in their lives.”I tell people,’Take a look at those guys,'” Tucker stated. “And here I am practicing breaking on the green while the club is closed.”