Long before Nick Saban was a six-time national champion, he was getting his feet wet as a college football coach in a big conference. Newly in charge of Michigan State in the mid 1990s, Saban came to south Florida in search of a running back.
That’s where he first connected with Frank Martin.
Sedrick Irvin was an All-American RB for Miami Senior High School. In the winters, Irvin played for Martin’s Miami Senior basketball team.
“Coach recruited him,” Martin said, “so I met Coach back in the day.”
Martin spoke of Saban on Monday inside Colonial Life Arena. His South Carolina Gamecocks (10-5, 1-2 SEC) are in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday evening to face Alabama (9-6, 1-2). Tip time is 7 p.m.
Coleman Coliseum should still be buzzing following the Crimson Tide’s epic national title win over Georgia. Tua Tagovailoa’s 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith in overtime gave Saban national title No. 6, tying him with the legendary Bear Bryant for most all-time.
Saban’s won five championships in nine years with Alabama.
Martin, who guided USC to the Final Four last season, admires Saban’s consistent drive the most.
The two have shared time together at SEC spring meetings.
“Everyone says it’s hard to repeat,” Martin said. “The reason it’s hard to repeat is because everyone, starting with the head coach, gets a little fat with success.
“And one thing he doesn’t do is get fat from success. Everyday’s a new challenge, everyday’s an exciting drive to get better, to improve. He doesn’t get consumed with what I call outside noise. He gets consumed with inside noise.”
Martin, a Miami native, is a product of the Don Shula era. The Hall of Fame coach led the Dolphins to two Super Bowl wins and numerous playoff appearances.
“I grew up watching Don Shula as a young kid,” Martin said. “I just marvel at their ability to not allow previous success to impact their enthusiasm to motivate and teach that following day or the following year.
“In high school, we won a state championship in ’96 and one of my closest friends said to me, ‘How are you gonna get these guys excited about ’97?’ I said, ‘Well, if I’m not excited, how the heck am I gonna expect them to be excited? And if I allow them to work less, how are they gonna accomplish more?’”
Martin’s Miami Senior bunch went back-to-back in 1997 – and then made it three straight state championships in ’98.
“(Saban is) driven to succeed,” Martin said. “I don’t know about other people, I don’t like being around people who aren’t driven to succeed. I like being around people that are fearless of the work and the difficulties that requires to have a chance to succeed and that comes with success.
“That’s how he’s wired. I try to pursue that every day myself.”