On their 50th anniversary, Nick and Terry Saban — and 48 of their friends — share their love story
Fifty years ago, Nick Saban married Terry Constable.
They wrote letters every day while Nick was away at Kent State and Terry was attending college near home in West Virginia. One year on Christmas break, they decided they no longer wanted to be apart.
The man who is now Alabama's football coach was 20 and Terry was 19 when they wed on Dec. 18, 1971 in Fairmont, West Virginia. The reception featured a polka band and homemade covered dishes.
They've made many stops since through Nick's coaching jobs. Along the way, Nick, age 70, and Terry, who is 69, have won seven national championships and impacted no shortage of people.
Ahead of the 50th wedding anniversary of the couple known as Coach Saban and Miss Terry, 50 people shared stories of their impact with The Tuscaloosa News.
1. Lenny and 2. Christine Lemoine
The Lemoines were dropping their son, Ryan, off at Eglin Air Force Base on Jan. 11, 2016, for his second deployment to Afghanistan. Later that day, Alabama would face Clemson in the national championship in Glendale, Arizona.
The Lemoines were standing in the parking lot when the phone rang. The caller?
On the afternoon before the championship game, he asked if the Lemoines were still with their son. They were.
"Well let me talk to him," Nick said.
He spoke with Ryan, wishing him the best and telling him he was prepared.
The call is a moment Christine will never forget.
"They make time to reach out to people," she said, "who they know need to be reached out to."
3. Katie King
Director, Nick's Kids Foundation
The overgrown pathway just wouldn't do for Terry.
"That path out there looks awful," she told her husband as they were getting their vacation home in Boca Grande, Florida, ready for a gathering this past year. Boca Grande is a small, isolated community on Gasparilla Island in southwest Florida, and there aren't many folks available to take care of yardwork. So, Terry asked him to trim the plants along the pathway.
And Nick did it. With kitchen scissors.
"Do I need to go help him?" King asked.
"No he's fine," Terry responded. "It's good for him."
King cracked up.
"Who else in the world could tell Nick Saban, 'Go do some yardwork before our guests get here?'" King said.
The only person who could do that is the same one who threw King's wedding and baby showers. King said the Sabans mean everything to her.
“He always says, ‘Be a person you want to emulate,’” King said. “I think that shows through his marriage, too. He puts Miss Terry first."
A champion of giving:Terry Saban drives family's charitable efforts in Tuscaloosa
'A remarkable man':Nick Saban's success on field benefits city, region of Tuscaloosa
4. Scott Goldsmith
Father of late chef Fuller Goldsmith
Nick had one more stop he wanted to make in Birmingham after leaving SEC Media Days more than a decade ago. He heard Fuller was in the hospital.
Fuller, who died in October at 17 after fighting back acute lymphoblastic leukemia three times, was first diagnosed in April 2007. He later came to fame on the Food Network's "Chopped Junior" show. Early in their tenure in Tuscaloosa, the Sabans learned Fuller was sick.
It was a year or two later when Nick made this detour to the hospital. He didn't talk much to anyone other than Fuller, to whom he offered words of encouragement.
"Nobody ever knew (Saban) was at the hospital," Scott said.
Nick didn't want to create a fanfare. He just wanted to see Fuller.
"Both of them are so giving and caring, and most people never see that," Scott said.
5. Walt Maddox
After the 2011 tornado that tore through Tuscaloosa, part of an outbreak that took more than 250 lives, Nick reached out to Maddox and said to let the Sabans know if there was anything they could do.
A few weeks later, Maddox took them up on that.
The Louisiana search-and-rescue team that came to help over several days was about to leave Tuscaloosa. Before, though, they were holding a crawfish tailgate outside of Sewell-Thomas Stadium when Alabama and LSU baseball played the first game on campus after the tornado. They asked Maddox if he could somehow get Nick to come.
The Sabans said yes.
They spent three hours there.
“When the story was relayed back to me, that really hit me,” Maddox said. “That is more than just living in a community. That’s, ‘We’re hurting with you and we want to do something to help make it right.’”
6. Jeff Allen
Alabama associate athletics director, sports medicine
Allen has worked for Nick during his entire 15-year stint in Alabama. One car ride still stands out.
Allen and Nick drove to see Carson Tinker in the hospital after the Crimson Tide's long snapper suffered injuries in the 2011 tornado. Allen still remembers that drive back through 15th Street, witnessing all the destruction.
“Everybody in the car was really quiet,” Allen said. “(Nick) just kept saying, ‘We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to do something.’"
And they did. Nick would show up unannounced at relief centers to thank volunteers and give pep talks.
Allen said the way the Sabans give back has inspired him.
“I have truly seen the genuine concern he and Miss Terry have for other people,” Allen said. “It goes well beyond our players.”
7. Butch Jones
Arkansas State football coach
Jones had recently been fired as Tennessee's football coach and was sitting in his Knoxville home when his phone rang.
Nick wanted him to be in Tuscaloosa the next day. Jones became an offensive analyst and later assistant to the head coach at Alabama.
“I was telling (my wife), ‘In the (introductory) press conference (at Arkansas State) when they brought up Nick and Terry, I got extremely emotional because they mean so much to me,’” Jones said. “And she looks at me and goes, ‘Why would you not get that way?’ Those two individuals gave us an opportunity when nobody else did.”
8. Irv Smith Jr.
Minnesota Vikings tight end
Smith’s mother, Rose Matamoros, might have had the most fun during his official visit to UA in 2016.
While Smith was spending time with Alabama players, Matamoros was at the Sabans’ house for karaoke. As Matamoros sang New Orleans music, Nick and Terry were dancing, as were other coaches.
Smith heard about it after the fact.
“For me, it just shows they truly care about family,” Smith said. “They like to have a good time as well.”
9. Marlan Wilbanks
Nick was on the recruiting trail a day or two before signing day in 2015 when he made a detour to Atlanta.
Madison Wilbanks, the daughter of his friend Marlan, had died at 18 from complications from Type 1 diabetes. Within a day of hearing that news, Nick was in the Wilbanks’ living room.
“He’s incredible,” Marlan said. “We know his time is so much more spoken for. He just doesn’t have the free time that we have. He picks up his phone any time he can.”
10. Kirk Ferentz
Iowa football coach
Almost 30 years later, Ferentz still remembers the gesture.
He was in his first year coaching the Cleveland Browns offensive line in 1993 when Nick was defensive coordinator. In the NFL, coaches tend to be more like sub-contractors, Ferentz said. So there's often less fraternizing among the staff’s families.
Not when the Sabans are involved, though. One day for the Kentucky Derby, Nick and Terry invited the Browns coaches and their wives over. That was when Ferentz had the chance to meet colleagues' spouses for the first time.
“Us being the new guys, my wife and I, it was a really nice social thing,” Ferentz said. “Really good to get away from football. I remember we all had a good time. They were great hosts.”
11. Steve Sarkisian
Texas football coach
Before Sarkisian could be hired at Alabama, he had to go through one more important step of approval: dinner at Nick and Terry's.
Sarkisian said Nick makes sure Terry meets the candidates anytime he hires someone.
“What a sign of a union that they’ve formed for many years together that he trusts Miss Terry in deciding who’s going to be on his coaching staff and be part of that decision,” Sarkisian said.
12. Joe Manchin
West Virginia senator
Few have known the Sabans longer than Sen. Manchin.
The coach and senator grew up together in West Virginia, about four miles from each other. Manchin, his wife Gayle and the Sabans have since shared in vacations, holidays and wins and losses; both in politics and football.
“Through it all, we always know we have each other’s back,” Manchin said, “that we have an enduring friendship that has made our lives stronger and better.”
13. Patrick Surtain II
Denver Broncos cornerback
Surtain appreciates how Nick developed him into the best person and football player he could be, but he especially appreciates how the Sabans welcomed him as a freshman.
“Every time I went over to their house, she would show love to the players,” Surtain said. “It was an all-around great atmosphere to be around.”
14. Donna Petty
Hamner Real Estate realtor and friend
Petty met the Sabans the day they arrived in Tuscaloosa. Since, she became close friends with them.
“I have never met any more giving, charitable and selfless people,” Petty said. “I have observed Terry and Nick’s compassion and incredible caring for others with no limit.”
15. Jay Seawell
Alabama men's golf coach
Seawell still has the messages saved on his phone. Nick called when Seawell's father died this past summer. He also called when Seawell's father-in-law died two years ago.
"For him to remember me at a time of that, it's just something I always will remember," Seawell said. "He's just always generous. I think he's so different than most people perceive him."
16. Kristen Saban Setas
The message Kristen received from her parents growing up was not all that different from what Alabama players hear: Be a good person and do the right thing.
Her parents led by example, Kristen said.
Among many other points of advice through the years, her parents have also shared words of wisdom for marriage.
"Just being each other's cheerleader is kind of what my mom has told me in the past," Kristen said. "No matter what you’re going through, he could have a bad day at work or I could have a bad day at home. No matter what, put that stuff aside and be there for each other and take care of each other and always have each other’s backs."
17. Nicholas Saban
No matter how busy Nick is, he calls his son every night.
"No matter what," Nicholas said. "No matter where he is."
His mom calls just about every day, too. Nicholas said their dedication in helping him grow hasn't relented.
"The way they feed off each other’s energy is absolutely incredible," Nicholas said. "Their marriage has been definitely something … I won’t call it the perfect marriage, but it’s damn close.”
18. Stella Rainey
Volunteer, Tuscaloosa County Juvenile Detention Center and Benjamin Barnes YMCA
About four years ago, Terry and a few friends asked Rainey for bridge lessons.
Rainey has no shortage of experience playing the card game. She’s studied it, spent plenty of money on it and traveled to tournaments.
During those lessons, Terry shared her vision for literacy at the detention center. Ever since, she’s been someone Rainey called a “can-count-on friend.”
“When texting to Miss Terry my current need for JDC or BBYMCA, her reply is always, 'I am on it,' which means not when I get around to it or ‘perhaps’ or ‘oops I forgot,’” Rainey said. “’I am on it’ means done.”
19. Jonah Williams
Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle
Upon arriving in Tuscaloosa, Williams quickly learned who serves as the source of Nick's success: Terry.
“It’s been impactful for me to see such a strong couple at the heart of a program like Alabama,” Williams said. “They make all of us feel very welcome. She’s been a huge part of what Coach Saban has been able to accomplish.”
20. Joselyn Hamner
Recipient of 18th Habitat for Humanity home
Hamner was living with her two kids at her mother’s two-bedroom home before Habitat for Humanity gave her a home, sponsored by the Nick's Kids Foundation charity started by the Sabans.
Nick, players, Terry, coaches’ wives and more all had a hand in building and putting the home together.
“They didn’t have to do that,” Hamner said. “You have to be some very nice people, not only on the outside but on the inside, to do such a thing. They could have been doing anything else, but they chose to help a family that was in need.”
21. Judy Holland
Managing director, High Socks for Hope charity
Within 24 hours of a major disaster, Terry usually calls Holland. Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Tennessee, Louisiana: it doesn’t matter where.
"They’ve done so much to help us with disasters, and not just Tuscaloosa,” Holland said.
Holland said she has never met anyone like the Sabans. She sees a genuine fire in them to help where they can.
“They just want to make a difference and truly care about the people everywhere," Holland said. "I’m probably their biggest fan, and football has nothing to do with it.”
22. Finus Gaston
Former Alabama senior associate athletics director
Gaston recently retired after nearly 50 years working in UA Athletics. He also served as the football oversight person in the UA athletics department until July, which meant Gaston worked plenty alongside the Sabans.
“Those two as a team is just remarkable,” Gaston said. “And they are a team. They work together on about just everything."
23. Ellen Potts
Executive director, Habitat for Humanity
Potts has worked with the Sabans since 2013 as they’ve helped build Habitat for Humanity homes and seen how their generosity inspires others.
“They have made it so cool to be generous,” Potts said. “They really have made everyone want to (give). It’s kind of like ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ but it’s ‘keeping up with the Sabans.’”
24. Dabo Swinney
Clemson football coach
Swinney will tell you that Nick has made him a better coach.
Part of that’s because to compete against Nick's teams, Swinney’s had to be at his best. Also, Swinney has watched how Nick constructs his program, especially early in Swinney’s tenure in Clemson.
“I learned so much from him indirectly of how he approached things at Alabama,” Swinney said. “He came in and really changed the game of college football as far as kind of bringing a pro mentality from an infrastructure standpoint.”
Swinney and his wife, Kathleen, have also gotten to know the Sabans while vacationing in Boca Grande, Florida, and through occasional dinners and golf outings.
“I’ve never ever heard anybody say a negative word about Terry Saban,” Dabo Swinney said. “She is full of energy. She is definitely Coach Saban’s rock.”
25. Josh Maxson
Alabama assistant athletics director, communications (football)
Maxson sees the same Nick everyone sees in news conferences and on TV. After all, Maxson is at every press conference.
But it's the Nick behind the scenes who has impacted Maxson.
“You see Miss Terry, she is who she is in public," Maxson said. "Now she demands a high standard just like he does. She’s that fun, kind-hearted, generous, loving person. Coach has this persona of the press conference where he’s getting worked up about something. In reality, that’s not him."
The Nick who Maxson sees is strikingly giving, shows care, stays consistent, makes expectations clear for all and demonstrates a faith-centered marriage.
"He's just a different person behind the scenes," Maxson said.
26. Kevin Steele
Former Alabama defensive coordinator
Steele has known the Sabans since the 1980s. He’s been on the same sideline and the opposite sideline, most recently at Auburn from 2016-20.
He's seen the kind of consistency in the Sabans as he sees in Nick's teams.
“The thing that people don’t know is that Nick and Terry are the same people now, where they’ve captured fame and fortune to the highest degree,” Steele said. “They’re no different than when they were assistant coaches at Michigan State. It has not changed them one bit.”
27. Mike Locksley
Maryland football coach
Locksley's time working with the Sabans made it possible for him to become a head coach again.
The former New Mexico coach joined Alabama’s staff as an analyst in 2016 before becoming sole offensive coordinator in 2018. Locksley then took over Maryland in 2019.
He has no doubt his affiliation with Alabama helped him, but he also learned plenty from time around a successful formula in Tuscaloosa.
“A lot of (that success) is due to Coach Saban, but also, I think the secret ingredient for him is having Miss Terry there,” Locksley said. “She has a different approach. She’s just so warm and welcoming and does a tremendous job of being an ambassador for that program and for that community.”
28. Greg Byrne
Alabama athletics director
Byrne was in Florida with the Sabans this past spring, and Nick and Terry were paying close attention to how Alabama softball was doing in the SEC Tournament.
How much the Sabans care about other Alabama sports, Byrne said, carries a lot of weight.
"They were just as well-versed as what was going on with our softball program as they are with our basketball programs to our baseball program, golf program and across the board," Byrne said. "They genuinely care about the success of our department as a whole. That type of mentality and approach from your head football coach and your head football coach’s spouse isn’t always that common."
29. Shalare Powell
Recipient of 15th Habitat home
The Nick's Kids Foundation gave to Powell by sponsoring her home. She gained confidence, too, she said.
"I have something of my own," Powell said. "If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be a homeowner after everything I’ve been through, I wouldn’t have believed it."
She's a survivor of Hurricane Katrina and the April 27 tornado.
"It wasn't looking too bright for me until Habitat and the Sabans came along and blessed me with my home," Powell said. "Doors have been opening ever since."
30. Bill Curry
Former Alabama football coach
Curry didn't cross paths with the Sabans at Alabama. He coached there in the late 1980s. Nick and Terry made a positive impression on him later.
Nick's ability to change the mood of a sideline has always amazed Curry.
"That's what really great coaches do," Curry said. "There are only a few of those who ever lived."
Meanwhile, Curry still remembers how Terry recalled what he said in a speech he gave at a dinner once.
"I really appreciated Terry because she understood what I meant with what I was talking about," Curry said.
31. Ross Pierschbacher
New York Jets offensive lineman
Coming from Iowa, Pierschbacher didn't have family near Tuscaloosa. So, the Sabans helped fill that void.
"They're everything a person strives to be as far as a couple goes," Pierschbacher said. "Just super open, loving and caring to whoever and making all of us feel welcome."
32. Thomas Fletcher
Carolina Panthers long snapper
Fletcher was on his official visit the weekend Alabama played Kentucky in 2016. The next morning, the Sabans hosted the recruits and their families who were on official visits.
Fletcher said it became apparent quickly that Terry was an integral part of the organization.
"My life would not be what it is today if it weren’t for Coach Saban and Miss Terry," Fletcher said. "Coach gives us a message and Miss Terry is there to back it up."
33. Patrick Drummond
Just days after Alabama defeated LSU in January 2012 for the national championship, Nick paid a visit to a friend in the hospital.
In a time when he could have been out recruiting, Nick and then UA athletics director Mal Moore went to see Patrick's father, Larry Drummond, who was dealing with an aggressive form of brain cancer. He died later that year.
Nick brought a game ball to Larry and talked with him for about an hour.
“There are a lot of things that people don’t see," Patrick said. "He doesn’t put it out there. No fanfare about what he does. He just does it. He does it because it’s a good thing to do."
34. Bill McDonald
Former Alabama director of sports medicine, travel coordinator
McDonald worked for 11 Division I head coaches. None has been more focused than Nick, McDonald said.
The same goes for Terry. He’s gotten to know her having helped build Habitat for Humanity houses.
“With both of them being as focused as they are on achieving a goal,” McDonald said, “it’s helped me a lot.”
35. Joe Pendry
Longtime friend from West Virginia/former Alabama assistant coach
Loyal is the most common word Pendry used to describe the Sabans.
He witnessed that loyalty when the late Kerry Marbury, a high school teammate and longtime friend of Nick’s, got sick. Pendry said Nick took care of the financial part of Marbury's care during his illness.
After Marbury died, the Sabans also funded a scholarship in his name at Fairmont State University.
“I’ve got all the respect in the world for Nick and Terry,” Pendry said.
36. Jeff Purinton
Alabama executive deputy athletics director
Over Purrinton's 15 years working with the Sabans in Tuscaloosa, Nick and Terry have been there to congratulate him and his wife on the birth of their two daughters, spent Thanksgivings and Christmas holidays together and many Friday-night dinners before road games.
"The thing that stands out as much as anything is that Coach and Terry genuinely care about others and will do whatever they can to help you," Purinton said.
37. Jerry Pate
Pate said there are two types of people in the world: consumers/takers and givers/producers. The Sabans are the latter. Pate said Nick knows his job is to be a giver and change peoples' lives.
"She has as well," Pate said. "Terry is the epitome of behind every great man, there's a great woman. You look that saying up in the dictionary and there's her picture."
38. Gene Stallings
Former Alabama coach
Stallings, a longtime friend and fan of Nick, said he isn't surprised Nick and Terry's marriage reached 50 years – and would be surprised if it doesn't reach 75.
"It's not about her, it's not about him. It's about both of them," Stallings said. "He always includes Terry in everything he does, and she includes him. That's just a real mark of being able to handle it correctly."
39. Thad Turnipseed
Former Alabama director of athletics facilities and associate AD for special projects
Of the variety of ways Turnipseed worked with the Sabans, the way they went about recruiting impacted him the most. He saw a rare partnership.
“It’s a team effort," Turnipseed said. "Terry is as good a recruiter as Saban, if not better.”
40. Jackie Wuska
President and CEO, United Way of West Alabama
Whether it be through promotion or donating through the Nick's Kids Foundation, the Sabans have shown commitment to support United Way's Success by 6 school readiness program and other causes. Wuska appreciates the way the Sabans have demonstrated support for children through nonprofits.
"They've made it a priority to invest in every child under the roof of their community," Wuska said. "While they will be known forever for their football dynasty, their gifts to improve the lives of children is a legacy that will have a lasting impact on the entire state of Alabama."
41. Steve Hudson
Nick has passed along lessons to Hudson such as not dwelling on the negative while they've golfed. Use that energy to do well next time, Nick says.
Terry has imparted wisdom through encouragement when she has heard about big events he had coming up.
"Literally she would give me the team chant and say 'be where your feet are,'" Hudson said. "She's as competitive and encouraging as coach is. Whatever that theme is for the team, she incorporates that into her life."
42. Tab Hudson
Tab, brother of Steve, got to know Nick best the summer after Saban's first season coaching Alabama.
They were staying in the same house on a trip Alabama supporters from Walker County have long held for Alabama coaches and athletics department staffers. The group rule was that whoever got up first made the coffee.
Tab was ready to make the coffee at 5:30 a.m., but he could smell that someone else already had done it. He found Nick sitting on the porch, watching the sunrise on the bay. They talked for 30 minutes, and from there a friendship grew.
"Steve and I had lost our father a few years earlier," Tab said, "and Nick's mentoring and caring for us helped each of us become stronger."
43. John and 44. Cheri Sisson
Nick had just had hip surgery three days before, but he wasn't going to miss the annual charity golf tournament.
The RISE program, an early-childhood education program that predominantly serves young children with disabilities, is something Terry cares about; and so do John and Cheri.
So, even fresh off hip surgery, Nick spoke at the event.
"They've never hesitated anything we've asked them to do, whether it was for an individual going through tough times or a group that needs their help," John said.
Another time, leading up to the tournament, he and Nick were playing golf. Nick said he would do whatever was needed at the tournament: play with every group at a single hole, drive around and take photos, whatever they wanted.
“They’re constantly giving," Cheri said, "whether it be on a professional level or just quietly when nobody is paying attention and you don’t even know they’ve done it."
45. Cathy Joiner Wood
Director, Tuscaloosa County Juvenile Detention Center
Wood still remembers receiving the email on her phone while sitting in her car at a red light. It was from Terry.
She and Nick wanted to give $100,000 after she had toured the facility, met the children and heard Wood's vision.
"By then, the car behind me was honking their horn," Wood said. "I pulled off to the Chick-Fil-A and counted those zeros again. I emailed her back and said, 'Miss Terry, did you count those zeros before you sent it?'"
She had, and they would also match the first $100,000 in donations from local businesses.
Now, the center has a state-of-the-art welding facility and a GED classroom.
"She was the catalyst for a lot of our vocational things," Wood said. "We now have a child enrolled in college (through Shelton State), finishing his time, but he has a different path when he gets out."
46. Barbara and 47. Vince Dooley
Former Georgia coach and wife
Nick often gets the "GOAT" moniker (for "greatest of all time") attached to his name. Barbara Dooley thinks Terry deserves the same as one of the greatest coaches' wives.
"Any coach's wife that stays married for 50 years is going straight to heaven," Barbara said.
The Dooleys have gotten to know the Sabans during their time as neighbors at Lake Burton in Georgia, where the Sabans have a getaway home. They see each other every summer and have dinner.
"They're a role-model couple," Vince said.
48. Eli Gold
Alabama radio voice
Gold has a front-row seat to the Sabans' relationship every Thursday at Baumhower’s Victory Grille during the coach's weekly in-season radio show.
Nick sits on the stage with him. Terry sits in front of Gold.
“You also learn what love is about,” Gold said.
Terry often stares at her husband. He will cast a glance here and there back at her.
“She and he are always within eyesight of each other,” Gold said. “There’s a connection there. You can learn from that."
49. Terry Saban
Like any good love story, the Sabans' began while dissecting frogs.
They met at seventh-grade YMCA science camp in West Virginia.
"A few years later, the cute quarterback for the Pop Warner Black Diamonds football team caught my eye as I cheered on the sideline for the East Side Rockets," Terry said.
They didn't date until high school. After long hours at his father's gas station, Nick would call Terry from the phone booth across the street.
He's been calling her ever since.
"Being married to my best friend, a man of impeccable values and work ethic, has been the joy of my life," Terry said. "Working together on common goals and raising our children together has been a blessing beyond my wildest dreams."
50. Nick Saban
For their first date, Nick took Terry to see “Gone with the Wind” at the Lee Theatre in Fairmont.
Ever since, Terry has been impacting Nick’s life.
“She’s helped me grow and develop in countless ways,” Nick said.
Some he mentioned were how she’s helped with his overall mindset, being positive about things, ability to communicate and being resilient in difficult circumstances.
“She means the world to me,” Nick said. “Love of my life.”
Contact Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly