Business & Technology

November 14, 2013

A CEO’s 10 Business Lessons Inspired by Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban

University of Alabama Football Game Bryant Denny Stadium Nick Saban Business Lessons College Football Sports

The Crimson Tide faithful fill Bryant-Denny Stadium to cheer coach Nick Saban and his football team on to another victory. CEO Jay Clarke loves sports, often drawing inspiration and taking away lessons for leadership and business from the game. Here, he shares his takeaways from one of the best in college football, Nick Saban.

There’s no doubt that Nick Saban is a winner. With four BCS National Championships to his credit—and the only coach to win such titles at two different schools (LSU and Alabama)—Saban is nearly synonymous with success, and by all indications, he’s not finished.

His methodical, meticulous approach, so called “the process,” can be attributed in large part to his winning ways. Fortunately, that attitude and culture he’s created within his football programs can also be translated into business.

So when Saban was featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” I tuned in with great interest to see what I could learn about HIS approach to HIS business and what I could apply to mine. If you have an extra 14 minutes and 46 seconds, I think it is worth your while to watch this.

Here are my takeaways from Saban’s “60 Minutes” interview, along with my interpretation of each:

1. He has a “Process.” The organization must have a plan and a purpose.

2. Don’t look at the scoreboard; instead, win every play. The team needs check-points along the journey—smart numbers, metrics, indicators. First downs lead to touchdowns. But first downs come before touchdowns.

3. Everybody must do THEIR job at the HIGHEST level on EVERY play. The organization is the sum of its parts. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The organizational mission must be individualized for each person. Each person must see how he or she fits into the mission.

4. The standard is perfection. Continuous improvement. Never settle. You never “arrive.” Everyone can always get better.

5. Everybody must buy-in to the standard, or there is no team chemistry. Every good leader must have good followers. Everyone must know the plan and the purpose. The Mission must be clear, and everyone must accept the Mission.

6. Take pride in performance. Be passionate about the mission. It’s hard to care if it doesn’t matter to you. You can’t win if you don’t care.

7. Do things the RIGHT way EVERY time. Develop the right habits. Develop a culture of winning. You play the way you practice.

8. Give attention to detail. It’s the little things that matter. If you don’t do the LITTLE things correctly, it’s impossible to do the BIG things correctly.

9. Be on time. It shows you care. Your teammates need to know that you are committed. They will know you are committed when you show up on time, dressed, and ready to play.

10. High achievers don’t like mediocre people. Mediocre people don’t like high achievers. 5-star athletes want to play with 5-star athletes. A-players attract A-players. A few C-players will make it harder, if not impossible, to get A-players.

About the Author

Jay Clarke
Jay Clarke
Jay Clarke, the president and CEO of, blends the ideals of athletics with the ideas of entrepreneurship to create the leading online subscription resource for magazine subscribers and publishing companies. He draws on his love for sports in his role at, where he sees himself as a coach to his fellow employees. Not surprisingly, Jay counts several sports magazines including Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, Garden & Gun, and WaterSki as his favorites. He also enjoys reading Nashville Lifestyles, a local magazine. Jay and his wife, Jill, reside in Franklin, Tenn. They are the proud parents of Jim, Jessica, and Philip.