Coaches’ stories teach us lessons

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 12, 2009

Football coaches always like to say that football teaches lessons about life. In the case of Texas’s Mack Brown and Alabama’s Nick Saban, the stories of how they came to coach their teams also teach important lessons.

In Saban’s case, the lesson to be learned is that sometimes things happen for a reason. When Alabama moved to replace coach Mike Shula in 2006, the first choice was then-West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez publicly turned down the Tide on Dec. 12, 2006, and Alabama eventually hired Saban, who was coaching the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and had previously won a national championship at LSU.

Saban has been nothing short of a success story for Alabama and will take his Tide into the national championship game. Rodriguez eventually left West Virginia to coach at Michigan and has been a disappointment so far, compiling an 8-16 record that includes just a 3-13 mark in the Big Ten conference (not exactly considered a powerhouse conference).

Many Alabama fans were despondent after Rodriguez turned down the Tide in 2006, but there’s not a single fan in the Crimson Tide nation who would take him over Saban now.

On the other sideline in Pasadena, Calif., will be Texas coach Mack Brown. And the lesson to be learned, in the Longhorns’ case, is to have patience.

Brown took the reins of the Texas program in 1998, and had moderate success early before rattling off four straight double-digit-win seasons from 2001-2004. There was only one problem, as each year Texas came up short against its biggest rival, Oklahoma.

Brown became characterized as the coach who “couldn’t win the big game,” and there were grumblings along the Longhorn faithful that he was their version of Ohio State coach John Cooper — a guy who could beat up on the weaker teams but couldn’t beat the big rival (Cooper was 2-10-1 against Michigan). Some even called for Brown to be fired.

Then, in 2005, Brown’s team not only beat Oklahoma but also everyone else on the schedule — including a shocking 41-38 win in the national championship game over a USC team some called “the greatest team ever.” In the last five years, Brown’s Texas program has gone 58-7 — including a 4-1 record over Oklahoma. Recently, Brown signed an extension that will pay him $5 million a year. And yet just five years ago, many wanted the guy fired.

Sometimes sports can teach us all a lesson, and in this case, two lessons. Don’t be discouraged if things don’t work out the way you planned, and remember to have a little patience. Sometimes life can change for the better in the blink of an eye, or the sound of a coach’s whistle.