BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — In trying to figure out how to capture the lives and philosophies of two of football’s most successful and respected coaches, Ken Rodgers looked to an obscure film that featured another iconic coach.
Rodgers, director of “Saban & Belichick: The Art of Coaching” which premieres on HBO at 8 p.m. Tuesday, remembers seeing a 1968 film called “Second Effort,” a training film featuring Vince Lombardi, who led the Green Bay Packers to win the first two Super Bowls in 1967 and 1968.
“It’s essentially taking Lombardis’ advice for football into the sales world,” Rodgers said.
In that same vein, Rodgers views “Saban & Belichick,” which chronicles the long friendship between Alabama coach Nick Saban and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, as a self-help film.
“A lot of people look to success and successful people for advice and hold up those people as examples to follow,” he said. “The knowledge of these two sitting together would not just be for football fans, but for everyone.”
The film was shot in March when Belichick was in Tuscaloosa for Alabama’s NFL Pro Day. Filming took place over the course of four hours in Saban’s office and home.
During filming, Rodgers took a unique approach to two coaches known for their reticence for candor in the media: stay out of the way and let them guide the conversation.
“When it comes to something like this with people like this, it’s a real hard battle against your own ego because you, as a filmmaker or storyteller, want to tell the story your way, but no one knows their story better than the two subjects,” he said. “If I had asked a thousand questions, they might not have been as good material as they wanted to talk about. A great lesson is that you think you can know everything about something, but if you listen, you learn more.”
Saban and Belichick’s friendship began when Saban was an assistant coach at the Naval Academy in 1982, where he met Belichick’s father, Steve, who was a scout for the team. At the time, Bill Belichick was a linebacker coach for the New York Giants.
“We were both young, just barely starting out and sort of developed a relationship then,” Saban said during a press conference Nov. 20.
In 1991, Saban left his head coaching job at the University of Toledo to join the Cleveland Browns as defensive coordinator under Belichick.
While many of the things Saban and Belichick talked about in the film were not new information to the die-hard Alabama or Patriots fan, one interesting subject was how their time in college — Belichick at Wesleyan University and Saban at Kent State University — affected their own outlook on football and life.
“I majored in economics and I struggle to say that that’s really helped me,” Belichick told Saban in the film. “I think the biggest thing that I learned in college wasn’t the material; it was how to solve problems and how to think and how to come up with your own ideas and solutions to the problem.”
Responding to Belichick, Saban discussed the effect of one course he took.
“I had a minor they called it in sports psychology and that’s the thing that really spurred my interest in the mindset and the mental conditioning part of what you have to do to be successful,” Saban said.
Rodgers, who had known and worked with Belichick on different documentaries like “The Two Bills” over the years, said learning more about Saban in preparation for the documentary was a feat in and of itself, especially about “The Process” the Alabama coach is known for.
“Coach Saban’s ‘process’ was really great to get close to because I find that so much of American, including myself, can easily get addicted to self-help,” he said. “The philosophy of the process, what you can do today rather than thinking of the future and the results, was a great reminder as a filmmaker that I can’t be worried about tomorrow. The best what I can do is today.”
Dont’a Hightower, who played at Alabama under Saban and now the Patriots with Belichick, talks about the documentary.
To this day, Saban considers Belichick one of his best friends.
“I’ve learned a lot from just about everybody that I’ve coached for, but Bill was unique in terms of how he did things and how well organized he was and I benefited tremendously from that experience,” Saban said during the November press conference. “He’s the best coach that I ever had the opportunity to spend time with, not just coaching players on the field, but understanding the game and understanding what you have to do to build an organization, whether it’s how you bring personnel to the team, how you evaluate personnel, what you’re looking for, how you define that, critical factors at every position.”
Likewise, Belichick also has a deep appreciation for Saban.
“There’s nobody I respect in football more than Nick Saban, and I’ve learned an awful lot from him,” Belichick said during a conference call Nov. 26.
Rodgers said that while football may be the subject of the film, it is not what it is solely about.
“I think the best way to watch the film is to not to focus on football but to see the lessons that are applicable to your own life,” he said. “Football may be the subject, but the overall theme is about leadership and success and how to be happy, both in your profession and in your life by following those principles.”
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