“Saban started speaking with increasing eloquence about the importance of service to other people.”
April 27, 2011, will forever be remembered in the state of Alabama.
That was the day a tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa, leaving death and destruction in its path.
On Wednesday, Alabama professor Lars Anderson, who has written for Sports Illustrated, joined “The Audible with Bruce Feldman” to discuss how the football team and coach Nick Saban aided in the recovery of Tuscaloosa. “The team and Nick Saban, in particular, became so important to the emotional recovery for the entire team,” Anderson said.
He also explains how the tragedy in Tuscaloosa bonded the team. “The tornado gave that team an unprecedented amount of motivation,” he explained.
But more than anything, Anderson explains, a different side of Saban became apparent after the events of April 27, 2011.
“Readers will see a different side of Saban in this book,” Anderson told Feldman, “He’s not a real likeable guy nationally and I understand that.
“The tornado changed him. I think it cemented his place or deepened his roots in Tuscaloosa to the degree I never thought he was going to leave. He felt such a sense of obligation to the town to help rebuild the town.”
Anderson explains Saban’s “circle of friends grew” and “he really started to open up a bit.”
In the interview, he shares a number of stories which he writes about in his book due out in August entitled The Storm and the Tide: Tragedy, Hope and Triumph in Tuscaloosa.“
Loryn Brown, the daughter of former Alabama standout Shannon Brown, was one of the 254 deaths resulting from the deadly April 27, 2011 tornado outbreaks.
“Loryn’s little brother was really struggling after the tornado,” said Anderson, who recalled the story. “Coach Saban ended up calling him and inviting him into his office and telling him – and, of course, Nick Saban never knew I was going to find out about this and write about it – ‘when I feel bad, I find the best thing for me to do is try to help other people, to be of service to other people.’
“Saban started speaking with increasing eloquence about the importance of service to other people and just trying to focus on what’s important in life and that’s relationships.”
The Alabama coach wasted little time in the hours following the destruction. Early the next morning, he was loading a truck with Gatorade bottles left over from the spring game the week before and heading to the hardest-hit areas of Tuscaloosa, Anderson said.
“He sees for the first time the tornado missed his son’s house by a block-and-a-half and his son was in the house,” Anderson explained. “He realized that death blew right by his son’s house. (It) could’ve taken his son.”
Those days were life-altering for Saban, who wasn’t comfortable with inter-personal one-on-one interactions, Anderson claims.
“Person after person coming up to Saban and just collapsing in his arms crying telling him they lost everything. … He was forced out of his comfort zone and became this figure that people leaned on.”
But Anderson also suggests that past life experiences prepared Saban for April 27, 2011.
“He was uniquely equipped to deal with this tragedy based on his own experiences at Kent State,” Anderson said. “He was on campus the day of the Kent State shootings (in 1970). He was one of the first to arrive on the scene and he saw students down on the ground, bleeding to death. One of the students who ultimately passed away was in his English class.
“He was on the Kent State team the next fall and saw how a football team could bring a team together. And he leaned on that past experience.”
For the entire conversation, check out the audio below.