Mobile, Ala. — Alabama head football coach Nick Saban shifted the spotlight from spring training in Tuscaloosa for a few minutes Tuesday evening, asking a crowd of nearly 700, instead, to imagine where their lives would be without their parents, without their community, without the ability to show compassion for others.
“People need your presence,” Saban said. “People need relationships. Our young people today really need a lot of direction and guidance.”
Saban spoke at a benefit for Team Focus held at the Mobile Convention Center. Longtime college football coach Mike Gottfried and his wife, Mickey, founded the faith-based group in 2000 as a way to provide positive male role models to young men age 10-18 that lack a strong or present father figure.
“I know everybody wants me to talk about Alabama football,” Saban said, “but to me, what y’all are doing is a lot more important.”
Mike Gottfried, who also spoke at the event, lost his father when he was 11. He said he was able to become successful despite his father’s death because so many people encouraged him along the way. Gottfried spent more than a decade as a college football head coach and served as a college football analyst for ESPN for 19 years. Now, he uses the relationships he built during his career to benefit Team Focus participants.
“This is the only event I’ve done for seven straight years,” Saban told the crowd Tuesday. “Mike and Mickey Gottfried created an organization that does fantastic things for young people.” Saban also mentioned Nick’s Kids Fund, a nonprofit organization he and his wife founded to honor his own father.
While he devoted most of his comments to the Gottfrieds and the work they have accomplished on behalf of others, Saban also spoke about building relationships with members of his football team, and how he urges them to “be where your feet are.”
“Most people worry about what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “And I ask ‘What about today?
“Bad things happen. Are you going to stay focused on your vision or are you going to focus on your circumstances? If you are going to be successful in this life, you are almost always going to have to overcome circumstances. People who can be bigger than all that, those are the real champions.”
Clad in neatly pressed dress shirts and ties, dozens of Team Focus participants and their families sat front and center at the $75 a plate fundraiser, leaning forward as Saban spoke, soaking it in. Earlier in the evening, many of the teens shared stories about what the organization has meant to them.
Through Christian values and leadership training, Team Focus has been transformed from a once-a-year camp to a year-round community-centered program focusing on positive influences and role models – including high-profile, nationally-recognized collegiate and professional athletes and coaches – for young men through individual mentoring, tutoring, monthly social activities, leadership camps and scholarship opportunities. Team Focus staff members and volunteers host outings to go bowling, to watch sporting events, to visit college campuses.
Team Focus members said they don’t focus on at-risk youth as much as they do on young men with leadership qualities who need a male influence. There is an application process that potential members go through to join.
Headquartered in Mobile, Team Focus has spread across the southern U.S., with active groups in Alabama,Texas, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio and Nevada. Nearly 4,000 young men across the country have taken part in the programs, organizers said.
At one point, Saban told the audience the Gottfrieds deserved more recognition than they had been given earlier in the program. With that, people rose to their feet, cheering and clapping.
A few minutes later, Saban finally offered a few details about spring training. “The team is doing fine,” he said. “They have a much better attitude about what they are doing. You win games in February, March and April. That’s when they sustain mental toughness.”