Nick Saban had the last week of April marked on his calendar as a time of great excitement and joy. The Alabama head football coach was about to watch four of his former players get drafted on the first night of the NFL draft on April 28th, but a day earlier the most devastating tornado in Alabama history hit the Cotton State.In a time of great tragedy and destruction, college football took a backseat in Tuscaloosa as the Crimson Tide football team was witness to a natural disaster that would cripple the people who so emphatically and passionately root for the red-and-white on Saturday afternoons.
Saban has made it the mission of his football team to help in the recovery effort as he put post-tornado life in Alabama into perspective in the following interview with Dan Patrick. Nick Saban joined The Dan Patrick Show to discuss the first days of the tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Alabama occurring, the trouble communicating with his players after the tornadoes, describing the scene of where the tornadoes took place, college football playing a role in the recovery effort and the chaotic time period where his players were being drafted into the NFL at the same time the tornadoes were occurring in Alabama.
Take me back to the first day of the tornadoes in Alabama. Where were you when they first started?
“I was actually here in my office just minutes before they hit. I actually went home to get changed to go speak. Coach [Gene] Stallings has a Rise fundraiser that we were going to and by the time I got home that was about the time it struck. Of course communication wasn’t good. The power was out. Nobody knew the extent at the time. My son’s house was damaged, so we went there and helped get them out, but really until the next day no one really knew. The next morning you really knew exactly what had happened and the devastation and how it impacted the entire community from end of the town to the other and all the way to Birmingham.”
Any trouble communicating with any of your football players in Alabama?
“It was difficult. We texted everyone, emailed everyone. Everyone was here and got everybody together you know that next afternoon to try and give them some direction and make sure everybody was okay. We had one player injured and one player’s house was damaged, but he wasn’t there. It was a difficult circumstance to get sort of rounded up. The biggest problem with this and you can’t see the devastation on TV is communication. It’s difficult to communicate when cell phones go out and you can’t get in touch with people.”
How would you describe the scene of where these tornadoes occurred?
“I think that people can see on TV. You can look at aerial shots. You can look at the Sports Illustrated articles, but actually until you met the people who lost their homes and all their belongings, and the guy that lost his business that he worked all his life to create and then most importantly anyone who lost a loved one. That is the most difficult circumstance. If you look at this devastation here and only just over 40 people lost their lives is pretty amazing because it’s a mile wide from one end of the town to the other and it stayed on the ground for 70 something miles all the way to Birmingham.”
How does football play a role in recovery here?
“I think first of all I was really pleased with the way our players responded. My message to them was you know guys we have to be a team in the best of times and we also have to be a team in the worst of times. It’s time for us to support the people who have always supported us who have been effected by this terrible storm and tragedy. Our players did chip in and help. There’s a tremendous amount of help and support from other players and the athletic department and the university, but everyone needs to know we are going to need this continued support for quite some time to rebuild Tuscaloosa.
It’s probably going to take a few years, but I think on the other side of it a great lesson that everyone can learn from this is really phenomenal how everybody in the United States and the southeast and the SEC and other schools in the SEC have all pitched in to help the people here. I think it’s a great lesson for all of us to learn. You can have great passion for your team. You can have great passion for athletic events when you have to compete against each other, but when it comes to things like this people are most important, to be able to separate that from your passions and understand that is probably a good lesson for all of us. I also think when we get back to playing that it’s going to be an entertaining escape for some folks to be able to get back to having that passion and cheering their team and supporting something that has always been important to them.”
You had this bittersweet moment where your players were being drafted a few weeks ago and then these tornadoes occur at the same time?
“Again you kind of have to do your best to support everybody who needs you, but I ran up there on Thursday night because our players had asked me to come to the draft to support the players who were drafted. It was a certainly great, positive, self-gratification for them to get some of their dreams sort of fulfilled on that evening, to have four guys drafted on that evening. I’m very pleased where each of those guys went and the opportunities that they have, but their heart and mind and my heart and mind was back here in Alabama for those few hours that we were there and certainly got back here and was in a pickup truck Friday morning, the next morning, you know passing food and water to pe0ple here in town who were trying to help the cleanup and the people who needed help, also fed people on Friday night, 700 people in a shelter with our Nick’s Kids Foundation with my wife and passed out a 1,000 tee-shirts and just tried to have a presence to be supportive and listen to some of these people.”