What Employers Can Learn From Alabama’s Football Coach

For those of us who are college football fans, it has been an amazing first few months of the season, with many high-profile matchups and thrilling endings. And for those of us who root for the Alabama Crimson Tide, it’s been an especially good season. The team is once again vying for a national championship, and Coach Nick Saban is demonstrating why he is among the best in the business.

Coach Saban’s success – having won five career national championships, including four out of the last seven – is the result of his unparalleled work ethic and a commitment to excellence even the CEO of a Fortune 500 company would envy. Indeed, his processes transfer well to the corporate world, and some companies have attempted to mimic what Saban has developed at Alabama to bring similar success to their organizations.

Whether you’re a college football fan or not (or whether you love or loathe the Crimson Tide), you can learn from Saban’s methodical determination to succeed. Following his routine can help any employer prepare for unexpected events like a workplace accident or visit from a government compliance agency, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Given what we know about the habits that led to his success as a football coach, here’s how Saban – if employed as a safety supervisor – might handle the difficult tasks of developing a culture of workplace safety and responding to an OSHA inspection.

Pre-Game Preparation: Before OSHA Arrives

Be Prepared

Few coaches prepare like Nick Saban. He rarely loses a game for which he had additional time to prepare. In fact, he has never lost a national championship game, which takes place several weeks after the end of the regular season. Safety Supervisor Saban would have his company extremely prepared for any government agency visit, including an OSHA inspection. He would take the proactive approach of creating robust safety programs, rigorous training techniques, and a culture of accountability. He would not wait until after OSHA arrived to take these steps.

Challenge The (Safety) Program

Coach Saban loves for his team to play top-notch opponents, especially early in the season. Stiff competition challenges his team and only makes it better. He currently employs 21 consultants – in addition to his coaching staff – to analyze the quality of his program. Safety Supervisor Saban would have consultants from top safety companies and safety professionals from competing companies review his safety program and give feedback on how to improve it. He would listen to and learn from these consultants in an effort to develop new techniques and continuously strengthen safety in his workplace.

First Half: The Opening Conference With OSHA

Take Charge And Speak For The Team

Assistant coaches for the Crimson Tide are prohibited from speaking to the media on behalf of the program. If you have a question about the football team, you ask Coach Saban. If OSHA arrived for an inspection, Safety Supervisor Saban would instruct his employees not to speak to any OSHA representative until he arrived. OSHA could only meet with the head of the safety program prior to beginning its inspection, ensuring proper and knowledgeable communication is delivered on behalf of the company.

Know The (OSHA) Rules

Coach Saban understands the rules of college football, even the intricate and little-known ones buried deep in the rulebook. In fact, he often questions why other coaches aren’t following them, or why certain rules should be changed. Safety Supervisor Saban would know not only the OSHA safety regulations, but the procedures OSHA must follow when conducting an inspection.

He would understand, for instance, that most arguments relating to the scope of the inspection are lost if you consent without limiting OSHA’s review to the stated reason why the investigator is there (e.g., hazard alleged in a complaint). Saban would know what OSHA can and cannot do, and would require the agency to follow correct procedures.

Second Half: OSHA’s Walk-Through And Interviews

(Make OSHA) Focus On The Task At Hand

Coach Saban refuses to allow certain team personnel to speak on the headsets worn by coaches during the game, believing that any additional conversation is unnecessary and a waste of time. He also requires his players to focus on each individual play and attempt to execute it without error. Saban generally prohibits players and coaches from discussing the score at any point during the game, trusting that the score will take care of itself if his team takes care of each play.

While walking through his facility with OSHA during an inspection, Saban would require OSHA to focus solely on the reason why it is there. If OSHA is there for a complaint on a press machine, OSHA would inspect the press machine and nothing else. There would be no discussion of any other matters.

Tell The Truth And Don’t Make Excuses

Coach Saban doesn’t like excuses. Win or lose, he generally gives the other team credit for their excellent play and doesn’t blame the referees. He also requires honesty from his players, believing it to be a crucial character trait. Safety Supervisor Saban would require his employees to tell the truth if interviewed by OSHA. If there is a safety issue, he would instruct them to not hide it or make excuses. Honesty is the only policy.

Post-Game: After The Penalties

Learn From Mistakes

Alabama doesn’t always win. When they lose, however, Saban uses that experience as an opportunity to learn. Rarely does he lose to the same team twice in one season, or more than one year in a row. If Safety Supervisor Saban received a citation, he may contest it if plausible defenses exist. But more importantly, he would learn from the experience. He would rigorously reassess and evaluate his safety program with respect to the alleged hazard in order to make improvements.

Above All, Be Professional

Coach Saban is a professional. He generally refrains from yelling or swearing on the sidelines, and treats others with respect in both victory and defeat. Safety Supervisor Saban would understand that employers and OSHA are on the same page from a mission standpoint: they both want to keep employees safe. Being abrasive or unprofessional will not help accomplish this goal. Saban would realize the importance of remaining cordial throughout the inspection process.


You can learn from Coach Saban’s example. His success is the product of habits that could produce results both on and off the football field. But don’t limit yourself to learning from a college football coach. When determining how to improve your safety program, consider what has led to success for others, even if that success occurred outside your industry. Thinking outside the box could lead to unexpected and positive results for your organization.