Such has been the story of Saban's career as whole, stopping on one rung of the ladder before ascending to the next highest step. From Toledo to Michigan State to LSU to Alabama, the opportunity to succeed improved.
But in terms of Saban's style of coaching -- his attention to detail, his demanding nature, his organization -- it's the same as it's always been.
When asked whether Saban is still the same guy who walked into the Steelers film room more than three decades ago, Perles didn't hesitate to answer.
"He hasn't changed much."
Gary Tranquill has seen Saban from all sides. But unlike some, Tranquill doesn't profess to have known right away that Saban would become such a successful head coach. He wasn't thinking about the man's destiny, he said.
Looking back, though, he could see the pieces adding up.
When he was hired as West Virginia's defensive coordinator in 1979, he inherited Saban as his secondary coach. When he then became head coach at Navy in 1982, he brought Saban on as an assistant. Nine years later he joined Bill Belichick's staff in Cleveland where Saban was the defensive coordinator. And then when Saban became the head coach at Michigan State in 1995, he took a job as his offensive coordinator.
Tranquill described Saban as "intelligent," "astute," and "a bulldog when it comes to recruiting." The X's and O's, he said, speak for themselves.
Having skipped no steps from assistant to coordinator to head coach, Saban can speak with a clear understanding of exactly how each job functions.
"He followed that process," Tranquill said. "As he made those various moves up the ladder, you accumulate knowledge and you find out a lot about what you can do and a lot about what you can't do. I think you put all those ducks in a row and you do it the right way, then you're going to become a successful head coach."
Said Pees: "I have a lot of respect for him doing it that way. It didn't come easy. Nick didn't have anything handed to him. He wasn't this tremendous athlete coming out of Kent State. He was out of West Virginia and worked his butt off and did what he had to do to work his way up."