Barry Jackson

Have Dolphins found a “younger, nicer” Nick Saban?

Alabama head coach Nick Saban watches a drill during a Peach Bowl NCAA college football practice in Atlanta, Wed., Dec. 28, 2016. Alabama and Washington will face off in the Peach Bowl football game Saturday.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban watches a drill during a Peach Bowl NCAA college football practice in Atlanta, Wed., Dec. 28, 2016. Alabama and Washington will face off in the Peach Bowl football game Saturday. AP

Ten years ago last week, Nick Saban told Dolphins reporters: “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach,” then, well, did just that after two unremarkable years as Miami’s coach.

A decade later, the Dolphins are playoff-bound under the leadership of a Saban disciple, Adam Gase, whose core philosophy is based in large part on tenets learned in seven years working for Saban at the outset of Gase’s career.

“You can see the [Saban] influence in coach Gase’s philosophy,” said rookie running back Kenyan Drake, who has played for both coaches in consecutive years. “It’s refreshing to have the same mentality going from college to the pros.”

Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase talks about having a healthy team and the 34-31 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills Saturday, Dec. 24, 2106.

The biggest similarity?

“They say to always focus on the process instead of the outcome,” Drake said. “If you repeat the process, the outcome will come out right.”

Dolphins and former Alabama center Anthony Steen, who played for both men, reels off a string of similarities: their relentless work ethic; how after traveling back from a road game, “Coach Gase makes coaches stay here to get work done” (like Saban) or come in early the next day; how “if you break rules, you get [disciplined] or they get rid of you”; how Saban and Gase talk to players light-heartedly just before practice, then turn super-serious.

The Saban/Gase similarities came to mind this week when Gase totally underplayed making the playoffs, no joy evident in his expressions or his words, reminiscent of Saban. Drake said Gase even quotes Saban at times when talking to the team.

“I go off what I learned under Coach Saban,” Gase told Peter King’s this month. “If you stick with your process, and do it right enough, then you will get the results you are looking for. The way he handles everything is so ingrained in my DNA now.”

I asked Gase beyond “the process,” how Saban has most influenced how he does his job.

“His organizational skills,” Gase said, “as far as keeping people on track and making sure everybody is doing their job. He was really good with that. When you’re a GA in college, sometimes you don’t think the head coach knows what you did. He knew what everybody did and if you got off track, he reminded you what you need to be doing. That’s something I found very impressive.

“You wouldn’t think a guy running a major program would know every little detail of what everyone is doing. If they got out of line, he would make sure you got back in line real quick.... I’ve got a ways to go on a lot of things [to get to that point].”

As a student, Gase helped Saban on his Michigan State staff, then followed Saban to LSU as a graduate assistant.

“I really enjoyed being around [Saban and his staff] and it was kind of becoming an obsession of mine,” Gase told the Chicago Bears web site last year.

Still, there are differences between the two men.

Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase talks with the media about quarterback Matt Moore's game performance with the team's 34-13 victory over the New York Jets Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, at MetLife Stadium. Moore had a career-high four touchdown passes.

“Coach Gase is a little more lenient than coach Saban,” Steen said. “Coach Gase understands this time of year, a lot of guys get banged up so it's not a must you have to go out in full gear on Wednesdays. Coach Gase is taking that perspective.

“Coach Saban is old-school, hard nose, straight business. Coach Gase has that straight-forward business type but at times he will jump around and play with us more. I have been fortunate playing for both.”

Steen said he could envision Gase, 38, becoming another Saban, 65, in terms of coaching success, but joked Gase would be a “younger, nicer” version.

Steen then quickly added that Saban is actually “a nice guy but once you get in his doghouse, it’s hard to get out.”

Saban was 15-17 as an NFL coach with the Dolphins but 204-60 as a college coach, with five national championships.

Gase, incidentally, borrowed one idea he learned working with Bears coach John Fox: Awarding “War daddy” shirts or Hoodies to players; Neville Hewitt and Damien Williams were wearing them Thursday.

Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said the honor is “subjective, but what we look for is just an effort and a level of playing for the whole game that is above and beyond, that he plays physical, that he really is a guy who just sold out at whatever role we gave them – kind of how I described Damien.”

For a bunch of personnel nuggets from our weekly Thursday session with the Dolphins coordinators, please click here.

Related stories from Miami Herald