Coaches on Same Page to Succeed -- Hollins, Saban in Different Sports, Similar Philosophy

By Higgins, Ron | The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), January 3, 2012 | Go to article overview

Coaches on Same Page to Succeed -- Hollins, Saban in Different Sports, Similar Philosophy


Higgins, Ron, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


From August until the end of their seasons, college football teams live in controlled, confined worlds.

Almost every day is scheduled to the minute. It's all about focus and reducing distractions, a repetitive daily process involving the same familiar faces.

So when a stranger suddenly invades the team perimeter for a couple of days, even invited into sacred coaching staff meetings, which is what happened the first week of this past season at eventual national champion Alabama, the players get curious.

Who's that old tall black dude? A NFL scout? One of Coach Nick Saban's usual guest motivational speakers?

"I knew who Lionel Hollins was, but I had to tell our players who he was," Saban said.

Lionel Hollins? You mean, Grizzlies' coach Lionel Hollins, who could have rested on last season's laurels of advancing the Griz to the seventh game of the NBA's Western Conference semifinals?

"You're always learning how to be a better coach, how to organize better, how to delegate responsibilities, how to motivate," said Hollins, whose 10-9 Griz hope to snap a three-game losing streak tonight at 7 in FedExForum against the Spurs . "You want to learn from the most successful guys.

"I know a lot of basketball coaches, and they may show you a few drills. But they aren't telling you what they talk about in the locker room or at practice or when they talk to their players."

So Hollins, who characterizes himself as someone who's "into other sports as much as I'm into basketball," chose to visit Saban, the only head coach in major college football history to win national championships at two different schools (LSU and Alabama).

He phoned the Crimson Tide's fifth-year coach and asked if he could visit him to observe. Saban was more than happy to invite Hollins to Tuscaloosa the week of 'Bama's Sept. 3 season opener against Kent State.

On the surface, a pro basketball coach making such a request to a college football coach seemed unusual. But when Saban was at Michigan State from 1995-99, he and basketball coach Tom Izzo often exchanged philosophies and ideas. Earlier when Saban was on Ohio State's staff in 1980-81, he recalled then-Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight visiting retired legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes.

"All of us as coaches, no matter the sport, are responsible for searching for better ways to manage the attitudes and the personalities of the athletes we coach," Saban said. "We're trying to get them to define success as being the best they can be.

"That's what Lionel was doing on his visit. He was also looking at how we organize things and how we define things, so everybody has an expectation of what they are supposed to do, what they can be responsible and accountable to."

Hollins had carte blanche access. He was allowed to be a fly on the wall at just about every coaching staff meeting - offensive, defensive, special teams - as well as overall team meetings.

"Football is the ultimate team sport, because you have to have 11 guys on your side of the ball doing the same thing each play to be successful," Hollins said. "It's intriguing how you get it done coaching that many players, but Nick is very good.

"It's a big operation and it takes a lot of preparation and organization to get it done. Some of it is similar and some of it is different to what I do. …

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Coaches on Same Page to Succeed -- Hollins, Saban in Different Sports, Similar Philosophy
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