During a training camp interview with “The Pivot Podcast,” Pittsburgh Steelers running back sensation and former Alabama ball-toter Najee Harris discussed his relationship with Nick Saban, which was volatile at times.
“Me and Saban, I’m going to be honest with you guys, me and Saban, man, we did not get along at first. We had a couple arguments at first. Because he just didn’t understand the type of due I was. I don’t know how many Cali dudes he had … but I’m not the type of dude who just sits back and just like let somebody just like talk to me, I guess, in a way and then not expect me to say something. I can take coaching, but like, it’s just a certain type of line when you cross, it’s like all right, bro, I’m a man. You ain’t gonna (expletive) talk to me like that. So I guess that he wasn’t used to having somebody talk back to him in a way. … I was like, you can coach me, man. You can coach me, but don’t think you more than just a coach to me. Don’t try to belittle me. I feel like I was belittled. … We just bumped heads a lot.”
Sounds like Saban met his match with Harris, who let it be known he wouldn’t tolerate being berated or shown up. But he was OK with being coached hard. At the end of the day, whatever happened, it seemed to work, as both were extremely successful together.
Turmoil and Struggle is what @ohthatsNajee22 credits to shaping him into person he is today.
— Pivot Podcast (@thepivot) August 16, 2022
The Pittsburgh Steelers looked like they’ve struck gold with running back Najee Harris. The former Doak Walker Award winner (nation’s top back) totaled over 1,600 yards from scrimmage as a rookie, (1,200 rushing and 467 receiving).
He also touched paydirt ten times and was the Steelers’ most productive player on offense. Harris was a five-star recruit coming out of Antioch, California, and the No. 1-rated running back in his class. The burly but nimble Harris had 18 offers from the top D-1 schools, including Alabama, where he chose to play his college football.
Harris arrived in head coach Nick Saban’s ballyhooed 2017 recruiting class that also featured quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receivers Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs. All were high four- or five-star recruits and are considered one of Saban’s two best (2020 is the other) best recruiting classes. And while the rankings mean something on the outside world, that isn’t the case once you set foot on campus in Tuscaloosa.
Things Came To A Head After Harris Decided To Return For Senior Season
Following a disappointing end to their 2019-20 season, many of the Crimson Tide players who had eligibility left decided to return for the 2020-21 season. One of those players was Harris, and immediately he and Saban butted heads, and Harris even left school for two weeks.
“It was the COVID year, and I came back from school, it was our last incident. Imagine, all four years we kinda bumped heads. But in a good way, you know. Then, like, the COVID year, last incident happened, and I left school. I was like, man, I ain’t messing with y’all, I’m gone. So, I left school for like two weeks. Then Saban sat me in his office, and we exchanged words. From that point on, he took time out the day to really understand who I am, you know what I mean? And ever since that day, we were rock-solid man. Other people gonna lie about relationships like, ‘Oh yeah, we clicked the right on.’ It was not like that with me and Coach Saban.”
RB @ohthatsNajee22’ individual goals tie into team. Make no mistake, in order for the @steelers to do more than “barely” make the playoffs he needs to have a better year. https://t.co/JSjCy3xRLF@thepivot training camp tour. @OfficialCrowder @FredTaylorMade @alicialauren pic.twitter.com/HJb9fMOz1z
— Ryan Clark (@Realrclark25) August 17, 2022
To hear Harris say Saban took time to really understand him is no surprise. Harris was a big part of that championship team, and Saban is smart enough to know that his team was much better with Harris than without. Harris didn’t disappoint his senior season either, further displaying his importance to the 2020 Alabama Crimson Tide.
Harris Has Year For The Ages
Harris’ dual-threat ability helped lead the Tide to a perfect 13-0 record and CFP national title. They became the first team to go 11-0 in the mighty SEC. For the season, Harris rushed for 1,466 yards and an NCAA-best 26 touchdowns. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry, while adding another 425 receiving on 43 receptions. His 1,891 total yards from scrimmage and 30 total touchdowns led the NCAA.
The Steelers drafted him with the No. 24 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, and Harris showed everyone why he was a highly-coveted prospect as a rookie.
Harris also displayed leadership that surprised Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and some of the veterans. That’s a product of the tough coaching he received at Alabama.
All’s well that ends well. Sometimes a coach meets a player that has the same personality and it takes time for the two to develop a mutual respect.