Dec 5th, 2023

Nick Saban’s Lessons for Aviation

Nick Saban and Alabama have been in the news a lot this week, but Saban’s lessons for aviation? Nick Saban, the head football coach at the University of Alabama, is widely considered to be the best college football coach in America.  He has won seven national championships, with six coming at the University of Alabama. Doctor Aviation contends that we can learn valuable aviation lessons from Nick.


Before I get accused of being of a “band wagon” fan, let me say very clearly that I don’t particularly care for the Alabama football team.  Depending upon the opponent, I often root against Alabama.  Furthermore, I am not a particular fan of Nick Saban.  He has some characteristics that I don’t find appealing.  I probably have some characteristics that he doesn’t find appealing either.  However, I do have great respect for Nick Saban and what he has been able to accomplish in his coaching career.

Reasons for Saban’s Success

Below are some of the reasons given for Nick Saban’s success:

  1. His Work Ethic
  2. Recruiting and Development (prepared to meet the players, innate eye for talent)
  3. Ability to Adapt
  4. Attention to Detail
  5. The Process (Don’t focus on the outcome, he says. Focus on what you have to do to achieve the desired outcome.)

College Head Coaching Positions Held by Nick Saban

Monte Burke authored a book on Nick Saban entitled Saban: The Making of a Coach.  In researching the book he interviewed hundreds of associates trying to discover factors behind Saban’s successful coaching.  He later wrote an article for Forbes Magazine listing nine leadership lessons we can take from the coach.  These include all five of the factors listed above. 

Saban and Aviation

So what does all of this have to do with aviation?  If one looks at the five success factors listed above, many are clearly related to aviation.

One of the marks of an outstanding aviator is strong flight discipline.  The ability to focus on and execute the proper procedures while flying.  This is especially true during an aircraft emergency.  This ability is acquired through a strong work ethic developed over a long period of time.

Flying also includes the necessity to adapt.  “Flexibility is the key to airpower” as we used to say in the Air Force.  Weather conditions, mechanical problems, etc. constantly challenge an aviator to adapt.

Attention to detail and “The Process” hearken back to what my friend Tony Kern, has called “Flight Discipline”.  Kern authored a book on the subject.  In the book Kern makes a compelling case that flight discipline is essential to competent piloting.  Kern, shares the following, “There is only one sort of discipline – PERFECT DISCIPLINE”, said General George Patton.  I suspect that Nick Saban would agree.  Which is one reason I feel that Nick Saban would make an outstanding aviator.  

The two most dangerous words in aviation are, “Watch This”.  The remedy for such an attitude is, flight discipline – Attention to Detail and “The Process”.

Note: An earlier version of this blog was written in January 2018

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