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.