John Clay: Saban influence seen in Stoops' moves at Kentucky

jclay@herald-leader.comOctober 11, 2013 

Nick Saban's name doesn't appear on Mark Stoops' résumé, but it's there, right between the lines.

Upon becoming the Kentucky coach, Mark Stoops hired a High-Performance coach. He put in place a program that would pay more attention to the players' nutrition. He hired extra support personnel. He put a great emphasis on data and science with regard to conditioning.

Where did the coach get the idea for much of that stuff?

"From Coach Fisher," Stoops said in January of his boss at Florida State, head coach Jimbo Fisher. "And Coach Fisher got a lot of those things from Coach Saban."

Fisher was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at LSU from 2000 through 2006. Saban was the head coach in Baton Rouge from 2000 to 2004, winning a national title in 2003 and leaving an indelible impression on Fisher, who took those influences to Tallahassee, and eventually passed them along to Stoops.

"Coach Fisher did take an awful lot from Coach Saban and did often talk about it," Stoops said. "So I do feel like simple things, even the way we structure practice, I think some of the roots of that go back to Coach Saban and all of the different people he's affected in coaching."

Last year, Sports Illustrated called it the "Sabanization of College Football."

Why, during UK's fall camp, Stoops heard himself use Saban's favorite term "The Process" so many times with the media, the young coach one day laughed and said he was going to try to cut back on using the phrase so often.

Not to worry, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

And who better to imitate than Saban, the Alabama coach who has won three of the last four BCS titles.

Stoops doesn't know Saban well personally. And yet Stoops admits he, like so many other coaches, has studied and admired Saban from afar.

"I just truly appreciate the way he coaches and how successful he's been and how consistent his teams have been," Stoops said. "He's definitely somebody that I look up to."

Stoops even hired an assistant coach with a Saban background. Cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley was a graduate assistant under Saban at Alabama in 2010 and 2011 before another former Saban aide, Derek Dooley, brought Ansley to Tennessee's staff last season.

"I don't know that there's a secret to Coach Saban's success," Ansley said this week. "I think he just coaches every day. He tries to maximize getting better every day, everybody in the organization."

Of course, not everyone has Saban's coaching background. The 61-year-old West Virginia native has been a college head coach at Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and Alabama. He's been a head NFL coach with the Miami Dolphins.

He was Cleveland's defensive coordinator when the Browns' head coach was a fellow named Bill Belichick.

That background might lead you to believe that Alabama's defensive schemes are more complicated than that of the average college team.

"I don't know if they're more complicated," Ansley said. "They got great coaches, great players, great tradition and it all kind of goes hand-in-hand."

"They certainly have a lot that they can use when they choose to use it," Stoops said. "I think each week they game-plan things and change things up, but I'm not sure exactly how he goes about it or why. I just know they are very good."

For his part, however, Saban has often said the most important thing he took from Belichick was a sign the coach posted in Cleveland's offices: "Do your job."

"He holds everybody to the same standard," Ansley said. "And he holds himself to a higher standard."

Are there similarities in the older defensive coordinator turned head coach in Saban and the younger defensive coordinator turned head coach in Stoops?

"For one," Ansley said, "they are great defensive minds."

Who believe in "The Process."

John Clay: 859-231-3226. E-mail: jclay@herald-leader.com. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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