Nick Saban doesn’t understate the impact Don James, the legendary former Washington Huskies coach, had on his career.
Saban, now the face of Alabama’s program and the most successful coach in college football, played for James at Kent State in the early 1970s. He said Thursday he had no intentions of becoming a coach when he was done playing, but when James asked him to remain in the program as a graduate assistant, he felt he couldn’t say no.
“I would never be sitting here as a coach if it wasn’t for Don James,” Saban said at Thursday’s Peach Bowl media day.
“I think he meant so much to me and I had so much respect for him, I think he made this decision for me. I did not make it for myself. And I’ve been doing it ever since.”
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Saban went on to a long career as an assistant at Kent State, Syracuse, West Virginia, Ohio State, Navy, Michigan State and the NFL’s Houston Oilers before landing his first head-coaching job at Toledo in 1990. He’s been at Alabama since 2007, compiling a 118-18 record in that time with four national championships.
James was the head coach at Washington from 1975-92, winning 153 games, four Rose Bowl games in six appearances, and a share of the 1991 national championship.
When James died in October 2013 at age 80 due to pancreatic cancer, Saban recorded a video tribute that was played at James’ public memorial service.
He said he still applies the lessons he learned from James during his early days in the profession.
“I’ve tried to take a lot of the philosophical things that he does when it comes to creating value for players, not only how you develop them on the field, but how you develop them as people,” Saban said Thursday. “The importance and value of people in your program, graduating from school and developing a career off the field and having the kind of character that is going to help you make the choices and decisions that will allow you to take advantage of your gifts and be successful in life.”
Alabama outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi, a former UW assistant, recruited several Huskies players during his two-year stint at the school.
His UW tenure ended amid allegations that he paid for a recruit’s online tutoring, though an NCAA investigation ended without penalty for Lupoi or UW. He was not retained by new coach Chris Petersen, and was paid $300,000 in severance.
Lupoi told reporters on Thursday that he has no regrets about the way he left UW, and said he was happy to see some of his former players during a joint team welcome party in Atlanta this week.
“(Wednesday) night was the first time I got to really see them other than going to the church the day before,” said Lupoi, referring to the teams’ trip to Ebenezer Baptist Church earlier this week. “Good to see them and (there are) a lot of great relationships from the past there. That’s all good throughout the week, but getting excited here closer to the game, we’re focused on other things than old times.”