If you read my columns you will discover that among other interests I am an avid sports fan. I like almost all sports. However my five favorite sports would be: baseball, football, basketball, hockey and golf. For my column today I turn to football.
Nick Saban is the coach of the University of Alabama football team. Recently he led the Crimson Tide to national championship number six. That ties him with Bear Bryant for the all time record. Saban is a relentlessly driven man and is largely motivated by competition for competition’s sake. In a recent interview he said, “I think that I’m always looking for the next challenge. I don’t know if it’s the way I was raised or whatever, that you’re kind of only as good as your last play, as your last game. I think everyone has heard me talk a lot about the fact that success is not a continuum, it’s momentary and it’s human nature to get satisfied and get a little complacent when you have success.”
He has a great deal of success. It is based on what he calls “the process”. “The process” is a system of coaching football unique to him. No one else seems to really understand it. Kirby Smart, football coach at Georgia and a former assistant to Saban tried to explain it in these words: “Well, this is not the first time I’ve tried to answer this question so I’ll be happy to answer it again. Probably the single greatest thing is just the level of commitment to the organization, holding everybody in the organization to a standard that he kind of embraced himself. He never asked anybody in the organization to work any harder than he did. He held every person on staff-and I’m not talking about just the coaching staff, I’m talking about the entire organization, to be at their best.”
In the game against Georgia, Alabama trailed badly at halftime. What was Saban like in the locker room at that intermission? Was he yelling, screaming, begging, pleading? According to all reports he was calm, essentially saying, “stay calm. Stay in your role. Things will take care of themselves. We will not let this be taken away. Trust the process.” And Alabama won.
There is much about Nick Saban I admire. However he also troubles me. His drive to succeed at any cost, his intense concentration on a single area of life leaves me uneasy. Last fall, during our national election campaign he was asked about his position concerning the two individuals running for the presidency of our country. His reply went like this: “I was so intent on our next game, it was so important to me that I didn’t even know the election was happening. We’re focused on other things here.” When I read that I felt sorry for him. A great success, but at what cost? I thought of the words of Jesus, ” What shall it profit a man if he wins the whole world but loses his own soul?”
Our faith provides us another path, another “process”. There is deliverance from those things that drive us and threaten to consume us. The Gospel is the good news that there is another option which keeps the success game from being the only game in town. We can really invite Jesus to be the significant other in our lives. We seek his approval and learn to count what the world says about us as secondary. Our goal becomes to do “that which is pleasing in his sight.” We make the great discovery that we are accepted just as we are. We need not worry about reaching some great height before Christ affirms our worth. This is the meaning of grace- approval and loving acceptance by God. It is that inner feeling which comes from being accepted, appreciated, and valued by the only coach whose judgment really counts. Trust that process and you win in the great game of life.