Indisputable. John Calipari, Kentucky’s basketball coach, and Nick Saban, Alabama’s football coach, are at the top of their professions. Calipari is one poor shooting night shy of putting a team in the NCAA Final Four three straight seasons, including one national championship. Saban, incredibly, has won the national title three of the last four seasons.
Indelible. The mark each coach is leaving on their sport. Calipari has changed recruiting forever all the while disproving a long-held theory that it is impossible to win championships with young teams. Saban is sprinting ahead of the herd, raising the bar for success into rarified air reserved for the likes of Bear Bryant and Alonzo Stagg.
It’s no accident either, which leads us to another iAdjective, if you will as Kentucky is on Saban's home turf as the Cats ready to face Alabama's basketball team tonight.
Identical. The core philosophies of each man on the non-negotiable principles for building successful programs. Had they been in the same classroom, the teacher would have accused them of copying of one another.
In the moments that follow, put aside the imagery of Calipari’s quick wit and Saban’s stoic nature and simply read the words each has spoken on their philosophies.
PLAYERS COME FIRST
“You have to have the respect of the players, which I think you get by them knowing that you have their best interest in mind personally and their personal development academically and helping them develop a career off the field as well as athletically in terms of helping them be all they can be to see if they can develop a career on the field. When you make all your choices and decisions based on that mission statement for them, I think players respect that. That's kind of what our program is all about.“ – Saban.
“We're a players first program. All of us, all our jobs is is to care about those kids. It's players first. Their job is to care about winning championships. Our job is we're about them. Every decision we make is about them. If I do right by these kids; if I make sure it's about players first; if I make sure everything I do demanding that they do the right things, that they create good habits, demanding that they understand you have to sacrifice for each other, demanding they spend the time in that building, they need to improve their own skills, they will drag us where we want to go.” – Calipari.
EGOS PUT ASIDE
“I'm really proud of what this team actually was able to accomplish together as a group. The team chemistry, the positive energy that they had, the responsibility that everyone has kind of taken for their own self‑determination and the way this team has worked hard together to try to become a very good football team and to try to improve.” – Saban.
“What a lesson for these young people, that if you share, you give up some of yourself for everyone around you, if you care more about the teammates than yourself, it's amazing what you can accomplish. That's the lesson in this. I wanted them to feel this, to understand the rest of their life, it's about servant leadership.” – Calipari.
BE ALL YOU CAN BE
“You can talk about winning all you want, but really the goal is for our guys to compete and play to the best of their ability – from an effort standpoint, from a toughness standpoint, from a discipline to execute standpoint – so that everybody embraces their role, focuses on their role, does a good job at their role so that it gives the team the best opportunity to be successful.” – Saban.
“When it’s all said and done, were we the best version of what we could be as a team, were individual players the best version of themselves?” – Calipari.
COMPETITION OF ONE
“So many times something as simple as running a 40‑yard wind sprint, I'll say, ‘We want you to run as fast as you can run.’ But a guy will run only fast enough to beat the guy next to him. So is that really being all you can be, or is that putting sort of a self‑imposed limitation on all you can be relative to what the guy is next to you? That's what we're trying to constantly get our players to do, and it's a battle. It's a battle versus human nature because sometimes they like to get casual in their approach, in their preparation and not do things the way you need to do them to be successful, and that's the challenge that we always have.” – Saban.
“‘Am I going to dive on the floor and run or am I going to jog?’ Am I going to really work to get this offensive rebound and go above the rim or am I going to stand here and go back on defense? What choice would you make? Depends on how good you want to be. You’ve got choices in this game. But this stuff is hard. Hard trying to be special. Easy being mediocre. It is really hard to try to be special.” – Calipari.
NOT ABOUT WINS
“I never really ever sit down and say, ‘OK, I expect this team to win this many games.’ I just knew there were a lot of challenges for this team in terms of the players that we lost, the things that needed to be overcome. Are people going to buy in, work hard, do the things they need to do, or are they going to say, ‘Why are we doing this?’ Are they going to work the way you need them to work?” – Saban.
“When you go through a season, you don’t judge it just by wins and losses. You don’t judge it just by championships. You judge it by what was accomplished by a team and how far they’ve come. It’s not like, ‘Well, what if this happens and we don’t do as well? I don’t do that. My mind is, this kid is gonna be great and its going to be my most rewarding year as a coach. I don’t know what that means at the end, numbers wise, but that’s my whole mindset.” – Calipari.
KEY TO SUCCESS
“The process is really what you have to do day in and day out to be successful. We try to define the standard that we want everybody to work toward, adhere to, and do it on a consistent basis – being responsible for your own self‑determination, having a positive attitude, having great work ethic, having discipline to be able to execute on a consistent basis.” – Saban.
“As a coach, I want to win every game. That's how we coach. But more importantly I want to see players play well. I want them to have career years, which means from one year to the next they're better, from one month to the next, they're better as individual players. My job as a coach is to get them all together on the same page and demand that they play together, demand that they defend together, demand they play with toughness, and not accept anything less than that.” – Calipari.
Final word. Impressive.