Nick Saban shares a lesson Bill Belichick taught him while coaching the Browns

"Belichick would chew my butt out, man."

Bill Belichick talks with Alabama football coach Nick Saban at the Alabama NFL Pro Day, Tuesday, March 19, 2019. AP Photo/Vasha Hunt

Alabama football coach Nick Saban still remembers one of the reasons why former colleague Bill Belichick would reprimand him during their coaching tenure with the Cleveland Browns.

“Belichick would chew my butt out, man, and say, ‘Let the players play,'” Saban said Wednesday after practice ahead of the team’s first spring scrimmage. “And I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve never had my butt chewed out before for coaching [and] teaching.”

Saban, who spent four seasons as Cleveland’s defensive coordinator, said he now has the same message for members of his coaching staff. In his 13th year at Alabama, Saban said he sees value in time that’s dedicated to “[letting] the players play” — just as Belichick told him over 20 years ago.


“I think good coaches are trying to reinforce players in practice after every play,” Saban said. “So they’re telling them, ‘You did this well,’ or ‘You need to do it this way,’ or ‘You made a mental error,’ or ‘You’re getting corrected,’ or ‘You did a good job,’ or whatever. You’re trying to reinforce guys on every play. Sometimes players are depending on that reinforcement all the time in practice.”

Because that approach was effective in a practice setting, Saban said he would act similarly during scrimmages and games. But Belichick helped him realize that it’s not necessarily beneficial.

“In a game, they got to know what to do, they got to know how to do it, they can’t depend on somebody else to make a call for them, [and] they can’t depend on somebody else to recognize things for them,” Saban said.

Saban said he makes a point to have moments even in practice where coaches will be asked to leave the field to simulate the scrimmage and game environment.

In addition to their scrimmage on Saturday, the Crimson Tide will host their annual Clinic of Champions this weekend. Among those expected to speak are former Patriots defensive coordinator, and current Detroit Lions coach, Matt Patricia as well as Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge.