Alabama head coach Nick Saban with Geno Smith (24) and Deion Belue (13). (Photo courtesy of Kent Gidley, University of Alabama)
TUSCALOOSA — Alabama safety HaHa Clinton-Dix never figured he and his teammates in the defensive backfield would take so much of the head coach’s time.
When he attended his first team meeting as a freshman, Tide head coach Nick Saban was there.
But when the players broke into meetings with their position coaches, Saban was there, too, along with Tide secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt. And when the defensive backs went on the field for practice, Saban remained with them.
When asked if Clinton-Dix knew it would be like this, he said, “I had no clue.”
Saban joked that if you asked the defensive backs what they get out of him coaching them personally, “I’m sure they’d say nothing — a pain in the rear end.”
But history has shown that it’s not a bad thing for defensive backs to have Saban over their shoulder during practice, even when he’s the head coach and managing larger responsibilities.
After lettering as a defensive back at Kent State during 1970-72, he has coached the position for much of his career, even when he served as a defensive coordinator or head coach.
Saban appears to have a knack for getting people into the NFL, including himself — he had two stints totaling six years as a pro football assistant with Houston and Cleveland. Saban also spent two seasons at the Dolphins’ head coach.
His first job in which he was solely in charge of defensive backs was at Ohio State in 1980-81, and according to pro-football-reference.com and the school’s lettermen list, four of his players played at least a season in the NFL. At Michigan State as defensive coordinator and secondary coach in 1983-87, he had six defensive backs move on to the NFL.
His 2003 national championship team at LSU had six defensive backs letter that season who eventually played in the NFL. At Alabama, he has had five play in the NFL, although pro football rookies Mark Barron (Bucs), Dre Kirkpatrick (Bengals) and DeQuan Menzie (Chiefs) are set to make it six, seven and eight this season.
“I enjoy doing it,” Saban said when asked about coaching the secondary. “Hopefully, I help somebody somewhere along the way through the years play a little better, or be able to play a little better, develop a little better or a little faster.”
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