Saban's 'Process' goes beyond the game

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Trevor Moawad left his office on Tuesday afternoon and boarded a cross-country flight that would take him from the arid deserts of Phoenix to the soggy hills of the southeast where he'd visit the University of Alabama and its defending champion Crimson Tide. There, inside the newly renovated Mal Moore Athletic Facility, he'd work with football coaches and players in a manner befitting his peculiar title: President of Mindset Programs.

A news release from the company he works for, Athletes' Performance, calls Moawad a "leader in the mental conditioning field," which, as crazy as it sounds, is exactly what Nick Saban was looking for when he hired him to consult at Alabama in 2007. Moawad doesn't draw up Xs and Os, and he doesn't show players how to lift a single weight. His particular skill set doesn't apply directly to what happens between the lines, but rather what happens between the ears. For as long as he's worked with Saban, Moawad's primary focus has been creating a culture of success from the inside out.

And three national championships later, it's fair to call the union of coach and shrink successful. They may look like the odd couple from afar -- the screaming, headset-tossing autocrat and the soft-spoken, mild-mannered pragmatist -- but in reality the two are often on the same page when it comes to seeing athletes as more than a set of measurable statistics. Saban's way of running his program -- reverently referred to as "The Process" by many -- is an evolving blueprint that factors in emotion, intelligence and critical thinking as much as it does speed, strength and the ability to read a defense.

"It's a different type of deal, the understanding of all the different elements that go into being a great competitor and a great player," Moawad said, "and I just think there are so many things Coach Saban does that nobody even knows they're not doing. Many people don't even understand ... the different ways you can help develop athletes in all aspects."

Moawad, who works with Florida State, Colorado State and some NFL franchises, spends up to 25 days a year consulting at Alabama, but the program he helped develop there is a year-round effort to keep players on the right track. They're taught how to handle social media, how to deal with reporters and why what they do away from the field can affect their future. On Wednesday, the team watched an example of an NFL organization interviewing a prospect at the combine and together they evaluated the player's answers and body language.

Later that day, Moawad stressed communication again by having two players sit back-to-back in an exercise where one player was given a series of shapes that he had to relay to his teammate in specific detail. Whoever's partner drew the shape most accurately won. At the end of the activity Moawad spoke more about the value of being an effective communicator and cited a study that said the average married couple talks only 27 minutes a week. "Is that a reason why its hard for a lot relationships to last?" he asked.

"Being a good communicator is going to be important on our team with the crowd and all the different things in games," he explained, "but more importantly it's going to be something that lasts long beyond the time you leave here."

A week earlier at SEC Media Days, Saban stressed a similar point.

"We did a leadership seminar, and the first part of it was about communication," he said. "The first question that was asked the players was, ‘Do you think it’s important to tell your teammates what you think?’ And 95 percent of the guys said, 'No, that’s for the coach to do, or the strength coach or somebody in a position of authority.' The next question was, ‘What’s the most important thing to you about your teammates?’ And the unanimous answer was, ‘What they think of me.’ That kind of just gives you a little bit of how much of a disconnect there is in the importance of communication. That’s what we have to work on a lot, and we try to use every example that we can."

Varying where the message comes from is an important part of the process, too. Everyone from police officers to former mafia to members of the NFL Players Association have come in to speak with players at Alabama. One staffer guessed that up to 50 speakers have been brought in since 2007. Dewey Bozella, the falsely imprisoned boxer who spent 26 years in jail before his conviction was overturned, and Chris Herren, the former blue-chip point guard who battled drug addiction in college and the NBA, were two such speakers in 2012.

By providing seminars and speakers, Saban and Moawad are giving players a roadmap to success. How they incorporate it, though, is up to them. Just this past February, four freshmen were dismissed from the team for their involvement in an alleged robbery on campus.

"We can be the moral compass for our young people," Saban said, "but we cannot always drive the ship."

Even though he can't reach every player, Moawad said he's amazed with Saban's ability to keep a firm grasp on his program where winning is a byproduct of good habits and not the other way around. Moawad has been involved in sports for more than a decade, and his father worked with Starbucks, NASA and Coca-Cola. Still, he said he's never seen anyone better at communicating a vision than Saban.

"A culture is something that you can feel," Moawad said. "You can tell when you're in one that's highly functional and you can tell when you're in one that's highly dysfunctional. What I've noticed is the expectation and the culture set forth by the organization is when you come in here you're expected to follow the guidelines and make the best of your ability.

"You've seen the evolution from John Parker Wilson to Greg McElroy to AJ McCarron. It's not just the leadership, but the expectations. Even though the faces change, the expectations stay the same."