By : Ed Sherman , Source : poynter.org
Unauthorized biographies are a staple in the industry. It is no different than a media outlet continuing to pursue a profile despite not receiving cooperation from the subject. Saban: The Making of a Coach by
Under the heading any publicity is good publicity comes Nick Saban’s reaction to Monte Burke’s new biography on him, “Saban: The Making of a Coach.”
During a press conference in early August, the Alabama coach, without being asked, expressed his disapproval in Burke writing an unauthorized biography.
“I just want everybody to know that I’m opposed to an unauthorized biography; for anybody,” Saban said. “And I think that’s some person that you don’t even know trying to profit by your story. Or someone else’s story. And one of these days when I’m finished coaching at Alabama I’ll write an authorized book because you know there’s really only one expert on my life. And guess who that is. Me. And there won’t be any misinformation, there won’t be any false statements, there won’t be any hearsay, there won’t be any expert analysis from anybody else.”
For most authors and publishers, Saban’s strong comments would be considered a blessing. He elevated the profile of Burke’s book to a new level by putting it in the news cycle.
Burke, though, said it is hard to gauge the impact of Saban’s remarks. The book has been as high as 17th on the New York Times’ bestselling list for nonfiction.
“Saban definitely raised the national level consciousness for the book,” Burke said. “However, there’s a good possibility a lot of hardcore Alabama fans won’t want to read the book because of what he said.”
Burke had his own reaction to Saban’s comments. Unauthorized biographies are a staple in the industry. It is no different than a media outlet continuing to pursue a profile despite not receiving cooperation from the subject.
“The standard joke is that Saban doesn’t understand the economics of the publishing world,” Burke said. “I read thousands of stories on Saban and they weren’t authorized. Did Bob Woodward get Barack Obama’s permission to do books about him? No. Journalism is not done by permission.
“He might have a beef if a writer goes in with a certain agenda. That’s not fair. However, if you write a book that’s objective, it’s hard to have a beef.”
Burke felt he did produce an objective book on Saban. He writes the portrait of a complex and driven man who rose to the top of his profession and is nearing icon status, if he isn’t already there. Saban hardly is perfect, and there definitely are passages that will make him cringe; namely, his flirtation with the Texas job while seemingly entrenched at Alabama. Yet for the most part, the book has plenty of good things to say about Saban and the methods he used to succeed.
The roots for the book started after Saban’s first year at Alabama. Burke, impressed by the way the coach turned around programs at Michigan State and LSU, sent a note saying he wanted to do a story on him for Forbes. Saban said yes, and they spent two days together for a cover story.
Burke heard from people that Saban didn’t like the piece. However, when he visited the coach two years later, he noticed there was a big poster of the Forbes cover hanging outside Saban’s office.
With subsequent national championships at Alabama, Burke continued to be fascinated by Saban and called the coach to discuss his intentions to do a book. Burke recalled Saban didn’t say much during the conversation.
“However, he didn’t send out a blanket email to people telling them not to talk to me,” Burke said.
Burke said he did more than 250 interviews, and 98 percent of them were on the record. He found people who knew him “were just as fascinated by him as I was.”
After Burke finished the book, he called Saban again.
“I think it is fair for the subject not to be surprised when something comes out in a story or a book,” Burke said. “I went over the things he would like and wouldn’t like.”
Again, Saban didn’t say much. However, he did finally open up during that August press conference, saying it would be the only time he addresses the book. When Saban made his comments, Burke said he is fairly sure the coach hadn’t read the book. With the new season starting this week, it seems unlikely he has done much reading since then.
“I hope one day he will sit down, read it and realize it was even-handed. I did my job,” Burke said. “One of his former players said, ‘He’ll hate the book at first, but eventually he’ll calm down about it.’”