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Alabama coach Nick Saban credits his Catholic faith with his success

Nick Saban

Mike Ehrmann | GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA | AFP

Zelda Caldwell - published on 01/10/22

Unbeknownst to many, the hard-nosed competitor is a devout Catholic, who along with his wife Terry actively supports the Catholic student center at the University of Alabama.

Nick Saban didn’t become the winningest coach in college football history by being a nice guy. Known for his all-business, hard-nosed approach to the sport, Saban expects a lot out of his players in terms of preparation and execution on the field. And they deliver.

In his 15 years as head coach at the University of Alabama, Saban has become a legend, leading his team to six national championships. In 2020, with the team’s victory over Ohio State, Saban broke Bear Bryant’s record for the most championship titles in college football history.

On Monday, January 10, he and the Alabama Crimson Tide (No. 1) will once again be vying for the National Championship on Monday, January 10, against the University of Georgia (No. 3) Bulldogs. 

What might be surprising to some who don’t know him is that Saban is a devout Catholic and sees his faith as central to his success as a leader. He sees his investment in his players as people as paying dividends for them in their lives long after the last whistle is blown.

“I go to church”

In 2020, following a victory in the SEC Championship, Saban surprised football fans when asked on the SEC Network whether he planned to watch a program announcing the College Football Playoff selection.

“I go to church from 11 to 12, so they’re going to have to either schedule it at a different time, or I’m going to find out when I get out of church,” Saban answered, as reported by ChristianHeadlines.com.

Saban Catholic Student Center

Saban and his wife Terry are regular Mass-goers at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The couple were major contributors to the construction of a Catholic student center at the church, which church leaders named the Saban Catholic Student Center.

Serving over 6,000 Catholic students, the Saban Catholic Student Center features weekly Wednesday night speakers, “Mass and Meal” dinners on Sunday nights, and small group Bible studies.

When asked about the Catholic student center, Saban told EWTN, “We’ve tried to raise money for it as well as making a significant contribution,” Saban said. 

“My wife, Terry, is very involved in it. We have a lot of Catholic participation by our students here. We felt it would be great for them to have a place where they can go socialize and develop the kind of relationships that might be helpful to them and their faith development.”

The Sabans were also involved in fundraising for the construction of the church itself, and addressed parishioners from the lectern with appeals for donations, according to an article in TheLeaven.org.

Fr. Tom Ackerman, pastor at St. Francis, told The Leaven that people have become accustomed to seeing the Sabans, probably Tuscaloosa’s biggest celebrity couple, in church.

“When they are in town, they’re here,” Father Ackerman said.

“My observance is that people have gotten used to them being there (at church), and they don’t garner a lot of extra attention,” he said.

Faith and leadership

In an interview with EWTN in 2016, Saban was asked whether he thought his Catholic faith had anything to do with his extraordinary success as a coach.

“I don’t think there’s any question about the fact that character, moral development are all a part of leadership,” Saban told EWTN. “… I look at it as, we always say, ‘God have mercy,’ but that mercy is not a well. It’s not a cistern. It’s a channel that should run through us to other people. That’s part of what we try to do for our players, so they have a chance to be more successful in life.”

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