Paul Jacob

Football coach Nick Saban is too busy to have dinner with the President of the United States. Is this a great country or what?

Saban is the head coach of the National Football League's Miami Dolphins. He's at the top of his profession, having already won a college football national championship at Louisiana State and presided over a dramatic turnaround in his first NFL season at the helm in Miami.

Saban's ambition and commitment, drive and accomplishments reflect an essential element of what makes America so great.

But this is not the universal opinion. Others seem to be saying to the coach, "How dare you?"

You see, they can't get over the fact that Saban declined an invitation to dine with the President of the United States.

"It was really a tough decision," Saban said. "I feel like my first responsibility is our team. That in no way disrespects the importance of the opportunity I would have loved to have had to spend dinner with the president."

Case closed. Like many of us, Saban's busy, he's a man with responsibilities. He's in the middle of pre-season football camp trying to get his team ready for the coming season. There is no politics to this. But that didn't stop an onslaught of whining.

One blogger at Fox Sports posited that, "Nick Sabin isn't the brightest cookie on the sheet." Unfortunately, the blogger misspelled the coach's last name. But then, so did the sports director for the Wisconsin Radio Network, Bill Scott, who wrote, "Sabin must be a real knucklehead, or he's real full of himself. . . . this guy needs to get a life." Uh, the point is, he has a life, and the priorities to fit it.

But there are other priorities. "It wasn't a tough decision," argued sportswriter Michael Wilbon, "as much as it was a dumb decision, certainly an arrogant decision."

Arrogant? What on earth can Mr. Wilbon mean by "arrogant"? Well, it helps to know that Wilbon's home paper is the Washington Post.

You see, Saban's decision calls into question the supremacy of our ruling elite. Mere citizens like Saban — or you or me — are not supposed to have any activities in our lives that could possibly come before our awe at the brilliance of our political leaders (or is that shock and awe?) and our steadfast desire to have our hands shaken, our babies kissed or just to bask in the glow of their powerlust.

Perhaps Wilbon is worried that Saban may have unwittingly sparked a revolution between the political haves and the political please-leave-me-aloners. Will we soon see congressional hearings on whether citizens should be compelled to eat meals with the head of state upon notification? Perhaps with some process for judicial review. Or not.

It's not as if Saban has got any axe to grind against politicians. (Sadly.) He let then-President Clinton sleep on his office couch during a presidential visit to Michigan State. (Ever heard about this? If Reagan had napped there, it would have been big news.) And Saban's best friend growing up was Joe Manchin, now governor of West Virginia.

"I can't even tell you what [Joe's] political deal is, to be honest with you," Saban remarked. "But he's my friend."

Keeps commitments. A work ethic. Friends before politics. Boy, Saban really is oblivious to the world of politics.

But his football world is not so different from the world of other private sector businesses. Success requires making tough decisions, demonstrating real leadership, fulfilling responsibilities, keeping commitments. Business owners and managers spend the long hours required to succeed or they don't succeed. Those workloads and commitments often require saying no to others.

And all the above — in football and in the marketplace — requires freedom. The freedom to follow your own dream. To listen to your own voice — not the president's. Or anyone else's. The freedom to be committed to something you deem worth all the effort.

Is this "arrogance"? No. It's what makes America great.

So, if you follow football, watch out for the Miami Dolphins this season. Saban's principles lead to success. And worse still for opposing teams, Saban's players are catching Saban's bug.

Defensive end Jason Taylor was also invited to the presidential dinner by Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, and he, too, decided not to go. "It's great to be able to do some things like that, but I've got an obligation here," said Taylor. "I've got a job to do and a responsibility."

Miami's safety Travares Tillman called Saban "a football guy. He'll take us over the president any day."

Politicians everywhere would do well to suspend whatever they're doing — either wrecking the country or campaigning for the job — to attend Saban's pre-season football camp. They might learn something about arrogance, and teamwork — even life. They might actually meet some incarnations of the spirit that makes America great, like they talk about in their speeches.

Of course, dealing with all those politicians won't help the Dolphins any. That's for sure. But then again, the Dolphins aren't my team.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.