Sabans influence felt across all levels of football
TUSCALOOSA | Plenty of Nick Saban's former assistants take his coaching principles to heart.
Plenty take them to the chalkboard and the locker room.
But only Kirk Heidelberg takes them global.
More than 20 years after he spent just one year under Saban as an assistant coach at Toledo, Heidelberg is applying some of what he learned on that staff today in the German Football League.
"He is the master of detail, and I've tried to emulate it as much as possible," he said.
Heidelberg coached tight ends and special teams at Toledo for Saban, and his coaching career eventually took him to Germany for 10 years. He returned to the United States as a coach and athletic director at Rockford (Ill.) Christian High but headed back to the GFL this year.
"It's hard to copy that, but I've tried to have the same approach," Heidelberg said. "There is only one Nick Saban. He had an impression on me as a coach."
Like Heidelberg, James Willis spent just a year on a Saban staff in 2009, winning a national championship at Alabama. Willis kept a notebook during that year and filled it with the things he learned - things he knew he could use to help him at future coaching stops. Mel Tucker, who coached for Saban at LSU, took mental notes.
"I watched everything he did. When he would speak to an alumni group or something, his secretary would always call me and ask me to drive him," Tucker said. "So I would pick his brain between his phone calls. ... He laid the foundation for my career in terms of everything I knew."
From Pat Perles' coaching style in the NFL, to Leroy Ryals' way with the kids at Athens (Ga.) Clarke Central High, and many more in between, there is a little bit of Saban roaming dozens of sidelines across all levels of the game.
"I'm happy to hear that some of the things we do philosophically are things people bought into when they were with us, and now that they have the opportunity do it themselves, they choose to use some of those things and believe in them," Saban said. "It's a big adjustment when a lot of guys start out with us, but then they like it a lot better, because it's easy to know what the expectation is."
Ryals said one thing he learned took from coaching under Saban at LSU was the importance of extending influence beyond just the coaching staff and the players.
"He believes anyone who comes in contact with the players is an integral part of the organization," Ryals said. "If you're in charge of keeping dorms clean, and you come into contact with the players, he wants that guy to work by the same philosophy as anyone else involved in the program."