It may seem like Nick Saban’s annual schedule includes a trip to the national championship game and the championship parade in Tuscaloosa that follows. But that’s happened only five times in the last nine years.
I know, five titles in nine years doesn’t deserve an “only” as a modifier. The point is it’s not a given that Saban’s year will include a national championship celebration.
But since the coach arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, two non-football events have been on his schedule every year. One is the annual golf tournament to benefit his Nick’s Kid Foundation. The other is the Team Focus event in Mobile to benefit the organization founded by Mike and Micky Gottfried.
This year, the coach will be back for an 11th straight year to headline the fundraiser at the Mobile Convention Center on Tuesday, April 17. Tickets for the event cost $100 each, with a table for 10 available for $950. Sponsorships are available starting at $6,000. The evening will include a silent auction that begins at 5:45 p.m., with dinner at 6:30 p.m.
This year’s event will also feature ESPN personality Lee Corso.
If you’ve come into contact with Team Focus or the teens the organization benefits, then you know what a worthwhile organization it is. Mike Gottfried has devoted his post-coaching life to making sure thousands of teens who don’t have a positive father figure in their lives get the guidance they desperately need.
Gottfried said this year’s event should be the most special yet.
“We’re changing it a little bit to honor Nick and Terry Saban for the work they do helping kids,” Gottfried said. “We’re going to give everybody in attendance a small ball recognizing the national championships Nick has won.”
This year the Team Focus event will take place four days before Alabama’s spring A-Day game. That makes scheduling tricky and demonstrates Saban’s commitment to Team Focus.
“When he comes from Tuscaloosa after practice it’s a tight schedule, and you know he has practice on his mind,” said Gottfried, who has known Saban through coaching connections more than 25 years. “He has to fly in after practice, does a great job at our event, then has to get back to be at work early the next day. But he has always done a great job communicating with us and making sure we can make it work. He doesn’t just want to put his name on something. He wants to see the results. I appreciate so much what he does.”
While Saban is the clear headliner, Corso usually steals the show any time he walks on a stage or in front of a television camera.
As coach at Indiana in 1976, Corso famously called a second-quarter timeout while leading Ohio State 7-6 so his entire team could take a photo in front of the scoreboard. It was the first time in 25 years Indiana had led Ohio State. The Buckeyes then scored the next 41 points to win 47-7.
Of course, Corso is more famous for his broadcasting career at ESPN, where he still stars on the weekly “College GameDay” show. Corso was already working at ESPN when Gottfried began his successful run at the network.
“When I got the job at ESPN I went to a meeting in early August,” Gottfried said. “I was really apprehensive because I had no previous experience and didn’t know what I was doing. The night before I called Corso and he said ‘meet me at 5 o’clock in the morning and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about ESPN.’
“I get there at 4:45 in the morning and he’s already there. We start walking in the dark and he says, ‘There are only two things you need to know for this job. Number one is when you do a telecast there are going to be people in the truck who are managing the telecast. They’re going to come up to you and say what a marvelous job you did. Don’t believe them. The second thing you need to know is that you need to be on the lookout for coaches getting fired. Because as soon as a coach with more notoriety than you gets fired from coaching, you’re gone at ESPN.’ That has turned out to be true for a lot of guys.”
This event is the lone fundraiser for Team Focus every year. Saban offered this assessment of Team Focus in a previous visit.
“If you’re going to be a good leader, you’ve got to have vision, you’ve got to have a plan, you’ve got to set a really good example for other people, you’ve got to hold people accountable, and you have to have some very defined principles in your organization so everybody can be accountable to them,” Saban said. “The last thing you have got to do to be a good leader is, you have to serve other people. This guy over here [Gottfried] is a great leader in your community. He’s doing great things. Please support him.”
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.