Saban recalls the value of Belichick teaching him not to coach too much

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One of the most successful coaches in college football history and one of the most successful coaches in professional football history were on the same staff in Cleveland in the 1990s, and lessons learned then are still valuable today.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban was an assistant to Patriots coach Bill Belichick on the Browns from 1991 t 1994, and Saban said this week that he still uses an important tip from Belichick: Don’t coach players too much.

“Good coaches are trying to reinforce players in practice after every play. They’re telling them, ‘You did this well’ or ‘You need to do it this way’ or ‘You made a mental error’ You’re getting corrected, you did a do job, whatever,” Saban said. “Sometimes player are depending on that reinforcement all the time in practice. But in a game, there’s no coach out there. I used to coach like that when I was an assistant. We’d have a scrimmage with the Cleveland Browns and Belichick would chew my butt out, man. He’d say, ‘Let the players play.’ I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve never had my butt chewed out before for coaching, teaching.’ But I have to say the same thing sometimes to our coaches now. Because there’s a time when you’ve just got to let the players play. Because in a game, they’ve got to know what to do, they’ve got to know how to do it. They can’t depend on somebody else to make a call for them, they can’t depend on somebody else to recognize things for them. So we actually do stuff in practice now, we do team on the field, I make the coaches get off the field. Let the players play.”

Belichick and Saban didn’t have a lot of success in Cleveland, but they’ve both shown since then that theirs is a winning approach to coaching.

39 responses to “Saban recalls the value of Belichick teaching him not to coach too much

  1. “Belichick and Saban didn’t have a lot of success in Cleveland”

    Went to playoffs in 94, and were picked by many to go to the Super Bowl in 95 and were off to a great start until Modell announced the moving of the team to Baltimore in the middle of the season.

    Um, they were on their way until Art did the unthinkable.

  2. If the best professional football coach ever and the best college coach ever did not have success in Cleveland, that’s on Cleveland not them.

  3. That’s why you have to have smart players to be in a system like this. Most rosters are filled with highly skilled athletes but not necessarily the most intelligent people. You’ve got to have a good balance to make it work.

  4. I mean, I wouldn’t listen too much to Bill Belichick’s fashion tips, but when it comes to coaching, one suspects he knows what he’s talking about.

  5. For all the credit that Bill gets (much deserved) for being the best coach ever, Bill himself has always said that football is a player’s game. He is a teacher who does his best to show them how, but at the end of the day, players are the ones that go out and win the game.

  6. Didn’t have a lot of success in Cleveland? They inherited a 3-13 team, rebuilt the roster and a couple years later won 11 games, had the number 1 defense in the NFL, and won a playoff game. Saban left for Michigan State after that season. Do some research. Know history. This whole Cleveland is always bad narrative is tired and old. BTW, the Browns didn’t fire Belichick. The RAVENS did. GO BROWNS

  7. Dont coach players too much, time is best spent on cheating.

    ~Bill Belichik~

  8. Belichik showed his way of coaching wins. Saban showed out recruiting guys is also a good strategy. Saban doesn’t out coach anyone.

  9. Belichick is amazing. I guess I can understand disliking him if you hate the Patriots, but seriously, how could anyone justify not respecting him? It’s a shame that people get so caught up in hating him and talking about crap like spy gate, that they refuse to see how fortunate we are to be able to see what Belichick (and Brady too) have accomplished. I’m not even a Patriots fan but those two have been absolutely great.

  10. NFL Network’s “A Football Life” did a piece called the “1995 Cleveland Browns”. Modell destroyed their chances that year with a midseason move. Belichick actually had them climbing the ladder from 1991 (3-13 team) to a playoff team. But the big takeaway from the piece was the staff he assembled. Saban, Kirk Ferentz, Ozzie Newsome… He put together a staff of guys that all went on to have varying degrees of success in the NFL, college ranks and front offices. He resurrected Vinny Testaverde’s failing career as well. The guy is a football savant.

  11. You can see now why both are successful, let the boys play and just correct the odd part of the game. No wonder they are both so successful. Admire that and hope other coaches are following suit as this could be the next thing for teams to beat Alabama and the patriots.

  12. I think Saban has surpassed his mentor many times over. He has won with many different QB’s. Belichick has only proven he can win with Brady. To the comment that said Cleveland was off to a great start before Modell announced they were moving, they started 4-5 before that announcement. I wouldn’t call that a great start. Belichick had exactly one decent year as a head coach before Brady.

  13. Saban has not surpassed his mentor. Saban has the luxury of recruiting All Stars every year. Belicheck has a salary cap he has to manage.

    Give the both credit for mastering their different environments..

  14. BB invented the cap recipe concept along with Jimmy Johnson, cleaned out the dead weight in 1991,1992 and 1993 and wanted Testaverde over Kosar by ‘93. He was blocked from his qb of choice and the Modell pulled the rug out.

    BB’s teambuilding brilliance and the roots of how he coaches today can be found in Cleveland.

    You need ownership support and clarity along with continuity to build a winner.

    We have seen what he has done in NE as proof.

  15. Ah yes, Saban – the greatest college coach of all time, just another member of the so-called “failed belichick coaching tree”. Sorts writers with an axe to grind like to prune and graft coaches from tree to tree to support their “storyline” . And a whole lot of them have gone out of their way over the years to try and make belichick look bad because he kept revealing their bottomless ignorance by WINNING.

  16. “Belichick and Saban didn’t have a lot of success in Cleveland,”

    Belichick was the last coach to lead Cleveland to a playoff win, that’s a heck of a lot more success than they’ve had since.

    Fun fact, that playoff win was against the Pats.

  17. Dennis Carson says:
    April 6, 2019 at 10:04 am
    …To the comment that said Cleveland was off to a great start before Modell announced they were moving, they started 4-5 before that announcement. I wouldn’t call that a great start…
    ——————-
    Though the announcement came after the 5th loss, the Times reported the week before that Modell had already decided to move. In fact it seems he’d already pulled the rug on Belichick then waited for a couple of losses before going public so as to give him some cover/excuse. The great start was 1994, Belichick turned around a 3-13 team to an 11-5 playoff-win team. And many of the successful early-era Ravens were either drafted by Belichick or came thanks to a bumper crop of picks he set up before Modell threw him under the bus to Baltimore.

  18. I think Saban has surpassed his mentor many times over. He has won with many different QB’s. Belichick has only proven he can win with Brady.
    ============================================================================

    I have seen this comment many times over and it’s crazy how people use it in I can only assume is their real belief that Belichick is only successful because of Brady. That he hasn’t proven he can win a Super Bowl without him.

    I can only say that when someone says this then be fair to add that Lombardi never won anything without Starr, Chuck Knox never won anything with Terry Bradshaw, that Walsh never won a Super Bowl without Montana.

    Generally throughout the history of the game or at least in the Super Bowl era the successes of coaches and QBs usually go hand and hand. Jimmy Johnson never won a Super Bowl either without Aikman. I mean the list goes on and on. Maybe there’s an exception or two but most of all the great coaches in the Super Bowl era which is over 5o years now had the greatest success with one QB. It’s not just Belichick.

  19. When the sidelines are mic’d during games, you can see this “let the players play” philosophy in action. When Belichick is talking to the guys, he’s not talking about specific plays or anything like that. Instead, he’s encouraging the guys to do what they already know how to do.

    Another example is from Super Bowl 53. There’s 1:16 left, it’s 4th down and inches on Rams 24-yard line, and the Patriots are up 10-3. Time out, decision time. Does Belichick do a bunch of coaching? No. During games Belichick knows the players have the best judgment about what’s happening on the field. So when Brady says they should have Gostkowski kick the field goal rather than go for it, Belichick says yes.

  20. firedog784 says:
    April 6, 2019 at 11:49 am
    ….Maybe there’s an exception or two but most of all the great coaches in the Super Bowl era which is over 5o years now had the greatest success with one QB. It’s not just Belichick.

    I agree with your overall sentiment, although it was actually Chuck Noll with Bradshaw, not Knox. And then, Joe Gibbs, had three different QBs in the Super Bowls he won with the Redskins, which is why I believe that Gibbs is in the conversation to be on the Mt. Rushmore of Head Coaches with Belichick.

    Among the many interesting things about BB is that even though he has a well-deserved reputation for being a tough and unsentimental HC to play and Coach for, you rarely see him lose his temper with his players or Coaches during a game.

  21. I agree with your overall sentiment, although it was actually Chuck Noll with Bradshaw, not Knox.
    ================================================================================================

    Thanks for the correction. My mistake. Yeah, I forgot about Joe Gibbs. But it’s a very tough thing to accomplish that in this now era of free agency and salary caps. I mean Brady has been a steady constant in New England for almost 20 years now but aside from him Belichick has rebuilt those rosters there time and time again without really never missing a beat all the while pretty much drafting last or near last every year at the end of rounds every year. It’s an amazing accomplishment what he has done there and one we’re likely never to see again with free agency and salary caps. At least probably not in my lifetime. Twenty years or near twenty years is an amazing run. I mean when was the last time they won less than 10 games. Last season they won 11 but before that it seems like it’s been 12-14 wins every year.

  22. Fun fact, that playoff win was against the Pats.
    ========================================================
    And wasn’t that New England team coached by Parcells that Belichick’s Cleveland team beat? I think so.

  23. Too bad they are not coaching against each other in the same league. Guess which one would Lose!

  24. I mean when was the last time they won less than 10 games. Last season they won 11 but before that it seems like it’s been 12-14 wins every year.
    ———————
    2002 when they went 9-7 out of the playoffs after winning Super Bowl 36 the year before. Last losing season was in 2000.

  25. Among the many interesting things about BB is that even though he has a well-deserved reputation for being a tough and unsentimental HC to play and Coach for, you rarely see him lose his temper with his players or Coaches during a game.

    ================================

    the referees though, thats a diff story. hehe. i love watching bill go off on the refs

  26. firedog784 says:
    April 6, 2019 at 11:49 am
    I think Saban has surpassed his mentor many times over. He has won with many different QB’s. Belichick has only proven he can win with Brady.
    ============================================================================

    I have seen this comment many times over and it’s crazy how people use it in I can only assume is their real belief that Belichick is only successful because of Brady. That he hasn’t proven he can win a Super Bowl without him.

    I can only say that when someone says this then be fair to add that Lombardi never won anything without Starr, Chuck Knox never won anything with Terry Bradshaw, that Walsh never won a Super Bowl without Montana.

    Generally throughout the history of the game or at least in the Super Bowl era the successes of coaches and QBs usually go hand and hand. Jimmy Johnson never won a Super Bowl either without Aikman. I mean the list goes on and on. Maybe there’s an exception or two but most of all the great coaches in the Super Bowl era which is over 5o years now had the greatest success with one QB. It’s not just Belichick.

    ——————————————————————-
    Part of what you said it true, but the difference is that Belichick coached before Brady and sucked. Yes, he had one decent year and took the Browns to the playoffs, but the very next year, they went back to sucking, even before Modell’s announcement. He went to New England and went 5-11 and 0-2 with Bledsoe, a QB that had been to a Super Bowl and was a number one overall draft pick. Brady has saved them in so many big games, including Super Bowls, that I will always believe it is much more him than Belichick.

  27. Tom P says:
    April 6, 2019 at 7:37 am
    “Belichick and Saban didn’t have a lot of success in Cleveland”

    Went to playoffs in 94, and were picked by many to go to the Super Bowl in 95 and were off to a great start until Modell announced the moving of the team to Baltimore in the middle of the season.

    Um, they were on their way until Art did the unthinkable
    +++++++++++
    Belichick was the worst Brown’s coach ever in their history when he was fired.

  28. thejetssuck2001 says:
    April 6, 2019 at 2:23 pm
    Among the many interesting things about BB is that even though he has a well-deserved reputation for being a tough and unsentimental HC to play and Coach for, you rarely see him lose his temper with his players or Coaches during a game.

    ================================

    the referees though, thats a diff story. hehe. i love watching bill go off on the refs

    *********************************

    He’ll definitely argue with the refs, but when the game is over you will never ever see him talk trash about the reffing or try to blame a loss on bad reffing, even if there were egregious calls or missed calls. He treats the officials like professionals and any public statements he makes about them are respectful.

  29. Michael Edits says:
    April 6, 2019 at 2:33 pm
    When Belichick retires, Kraft will hire Saban. Sorry, Josh.
    —————
    Saban is heading for retirement too. So there’s that.

  30. Robert “HandyMan” Kraft says:
    April 6, 2019 at 1:45 pm
    Nobody has success in Cleveland.
    ——————
    I’m guessing you are another one who thinks the Browns are named after a color. Learn some facts before you comment. Your ignorance is showing.

  31. White Proud Privileged Guy says:
    April 6, 2019 at 8:15 am
    Dont coach players too much, time is best spent on cheating.

    ~Bill Belichik

    —-

    Who is “Belichik”?

  32. Dennis Carson says:
    April 6, 2019 at 10:04 am
    I think Saban has surpassed his mentor many times over. He has won with many different QB’s. Belichick has only proven he can win with Brady. To the comment that said Cleveland was off to a great start before Modell announced they were moving, they started 4-5 before that announcement. I wouldn’t call that a great start. Belichick had exactly one decent year as a head coach before Brady.

    —————

    Coaching the pro game as a HC is completely different than college. Sabin tried and couldn’t do it. Roster building is totally different. Some oaching methods that work on boys with scholarships don’t work with men with multi million dollar contracts.

    Not saying BB would be successful in college either. Saban built a football machine that now fuels itself. His recruiting process is way easier than when he started for sure, but that’s all due to him.

  33. Sounds like Belichick needs HOF players in order to be successful. If it wasn’t for LT, his defenses on the Giants would be poor. If it wasn’t for Brady, the Patriots wouldn’t have won any Super Bowls.

    #Overrated

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