MIAMI, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Alabama's Nick Saban said he never wanted to be a coach, until he was convinced by a former mentor. Now, he is one win away from becoming the most-decorated coach in college football history.
Saban and Alabama face Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship game Monday in Miami Gardens, Fla. With a victory, Saban can pass Bear Bryant for the most national titles in history (7).
Saban, 69, got his sideline start in 1973 as a graduate assistant at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, after a brief stint as a 5-foot-6 safety and quarterback for the Golden Flashes football team.
"I never really wanted to be a coach," Saban said Thursday on a Zoom video conference.
"I think I have to give all the credit to Don James, who was my college coach, calling me in one day and saying, 'I'd like for you to be a graduate assistant.'
"I immediately responded: 'I'm tired of going to school. I don't really want to go to graduate school, and I don't want to be a coach, so why would I do something like this?'"
Saban said his wife, Terry, still had a year left in school at the time. The young couple had promised their parents they wouldn't get married until they graduated, which meant Saban had a reason to stick around.
"When I did it, I just absolutely loved it," said Saban, who has won five championships at Alabama and won once at LSU (2003).
"I think that it was a lot like being a player except you didn't have to run wind sprints after practice or anything like that. But I liked the competitive nature of being a part of a team. And the preparation that goes into it was different, but it was something that was very self-satisfying."
Saban went on to coach Kent State linebackers, and then accepted the same role at Syracuse. He coached defensive backs at West Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan State and Navy, and entered the NFL ranks in 1988 as a defensive backs coach for the Houston Oilers.
In 1989, Saban left his role as an assistant to become a head coach for the first time at Toledo.
Saban became coach of Michigan State in 1995 before he left for LSU in 1999. He was hired to coach the Miami Dolphins in 2004 before he landed at Alabama in 2007.
Along the way, Saban has formed a coaching tree, with former assistants branching out to accept jobs at all levels of football.
Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is one of the latest coaches to branch out under Saban. Sarkisian will become coach of the Texas Longhorns after Monday's game. He had more than a decade of coaching experience before he landed at Alabama, but said he has tried to be a "sponge" to soak up Saban's knowledge.
"This is the greatest college football coach of all time, and [coaches need to] recognize the space that [they're] in, regardless if you'd been a head coach for seven years, and there's been a variety of us that have come and gone through here," Sarkisian said.
"He's a tremendous mentor, and if you allow yourself to be mentored."
One of most important practices Saban preaches is that no detail is too small. He is known for his rabid attention to specificity in pre-game preparation.
He also isn't stagnant in his strategy, as his offenses and defenses have morphed to adjust to how the game has changed over the last five decades.
"He attacks all the little things with the same intensity and ferocity he attacks the big things," Alabama TE Miller Forristall said. "He is better at the little things than anybody else, thus he's better at the big things."
Saban will aim at his record-setting seventh title when the Crimson Tide face the Buckeyes at 8 p.m. EST Monday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. The game airs on ESPN.