As we write this in July, there are still a lot of unknowns about this year’s football season, but that doesn’t mean this state isn’t saturated with years of game day memories and traditions. Those etched in Kristen Saban-Setas’s mind come from an angle not many can claim though, with University of Alabama football head coach Nick Saban as her dad. To learn more about Kristen’s ties to the sport and her other passions, we chatted with her this summer from her and her husband’s Mountain Brook home where she is busy caring for their infant son James.
What are your earliest memories of having a dad who was a coach?
In middle school, I was more aware of what my father did for a living and why we were going to a football game every Saturday. I recall being really proud that my dad was the coach who was so successful even if it meant being away from home a lot.
How was your life different growing up with a dad with that job?
We moved a couple of times when I was really young, but it didn’t start to affect me until I was in high school. We moved from Fort Lauderdale to Tuscaloosa in the middle of my sophomore year, and that was a hard transition leaving my friends. Luckily, everyone was so welcoming, and I had a great experience being a cheerleader and making new friends. I feel like college was a bit more difficult for me though. College students are more vocal about their opinions, and I felt I had to defend my dad’s decisions. I have kept many of my high school and college relationships to this day.
How did Tuscaloosa start to feel like home after you moved there in 2007?
The greeting we received at the local regional airport really showed me just how happy and excited people were for our family to become a part of the community. I was blown away by the southern hospitality, as it wasn’t something I was used to. Everyone I came in contact with was so kind and made me feel like family. I always tell people I meet for the first time that “I’m FROM Tuscaloosa,” if they ask. I did the most growing up in that town. I graduated high school and college there, and I got married there. It feels like home more than any place I’ve ever lived. Alabama is home to me and always will be.
What was it like to be a student at a school where your dad is the coach, and what you were you involved with?
It was a really fun four years at the university. I really cherish being able to see first-hand what all my dad accomplished while I was a student. I have some really great memories from games sitting in the student section watching amazing plays and moments. I was a member of Phi Mu sorority, and I studied hospitality management and event planning, a part of the Human Environmental Sciences program. In that program, I was able to travel to the south of France and intern with a major independent film studio at the Cannes Film Festival.
What are some of your favorite Alabama football memories?
Every season since we have been here has always been a great one, no matter how it ended. I am just so thankful to be a part of the crowd and get to witness history in every game. I will always remember the 2018 SEC Championship game when Jalen Hurts took over in the fourth quarter for Tua Tagovailoa in a comeback win against the Georgia Bulldogs. That is a down-to-the-wire moment I don’t think any of us Alabama fans will forget!
What are your favorite parts of a fall game day?
I just love being in the stadium. Our family usually arrives two hours before kickoff, and it always amazes me watching the fans fill Bryant-Denny. We truly have the most incredible fans in all of college football.
How would you describe your dad?
My dad is just my dad. To everyone else he’s a coach. He is the hardest working person I know and has instilled some really great values into our family. He has a great sense of humor and of course is competitive even off of the field! I don’t think a lot of people realize, or even want to believe, that he is just a normal man who loves his family, The Eagles band and playing golf any chance he gets!
What do you admire most about your mom?
I could go on and on. My mom is truly my best friend. It wasn’t until high school when I really started to appreciate the discipline and expectations she instilled in me. She has always been my cheerleader, and I admire everything that she does for our family and for the community.
How does your family like to spend time with each other?
Lake Burton is our family’s sanctuary. We have owned a summer home there for almost 20 years now, and it is our favorite place. It’s quiet and has the most beautiful mountains and scenery. Every summer, we reunite at the lake with my mom’s sisters and my cousins from West Virginia for the 4th of July holiday. It is so fun to see how much everyone’s children have grown, and we really enjoy the quality time we get together.
How did you and your husband, Adam, meet and start dating?
When we were 5 years old, our parents were neighbors in East Lansing when my dad was head coach at Michigan State University. We rode to preschool together every morning, and after we moved for another coaching position, our families remained close. Adam came to Tuscaloosa our senior year of high school to tour Alabama before deciding where to apply for freshman year in the fall. We went to a movie and dinner. To this day he swears it twas a date, but I didn’t think of it like that. And he decided then he wanted to attend school there. We didn’t really cross paths again until our last semester at Alabama, and he asked me to dinner one night and the rest is history! It’s nice to marry someone who has been your friend for years.
What Alabama football ties were a part of your wedding?
We had our reception in The Zone at Bryant Denny Stadium. It was actually the only venue that would hold all of our guests, so it really was our only option despite the Alabama factor of our family! It ended up being beautiful inside, and while other people have draped off the large windows that look down onto the field, we kept it visible as it was a part of who we were and added a really cool view for our guests.
Your son was born this spring. What was it like to experience that during a pandemic?
Having a baby during a global pandemic was not what we had planned, of course! It was scary because there were and so are so many unknowns to this virus. I was still pregnant and due to have James in three weeks when we were put in quarantine. Our OB/GYN informed us then that only the two of us were allowed in the hospital room, and we weren’t allowed to have any guests. Not having my mom there for the birth of my first child really broke both of our hearts. Our amazing doctors allowed us to FaceTime her for the delivery. We actually ended up enjoying our time together with me, Adam and the baby, in the hospital.
How did you decide on his name, James Nickolas?
James is my father-in-law’s name, and Nick is my father. We made Nick into Nickolas to sound more formal but to honor both of our dads.
When you and Adam moved to Birmingham from Nashville, how did you decide to live in Mountain Brook?
Birmingham was always the end goal, and here we are! Living in Mountain Brook was the first thing on our list. The schools are fantastic, the people are friendly, and the neighborhoods are stunning with young families and children playing on just about every corner. We knew this is where we wanted to settle and start a family.
Can you talk about the Rose Tide Roll podcast you co-host?
My co-host came up with the name. The “rose” in the title refers to The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, as that is the topic we cover the most, and “Tide Roll” obviously follows Roll Tide Roll. I love doing it because it gives me an hour every week to cut up with my two friends and co-hosts. We have a really good time covering the TV shows, and sometimes will get into sports or other funny things that may have occurred during the week.
What is your role with your family’s charity Nick’s Kids Foundation, and what are some of your favorite memories and projects tied to it?
I am the newest member of the Board of Directors. My mom and I had always talked about when the right time for me to be more involved would be, and now is the time. I have always loved the building of homes with Habitat for Humanity, the annual Nick’s Kids Golf Tournament and recently, the involvement with the Tuscaloosa Juvenile Detention Center where Nick’s Kids funded the classrooms for the career tech program. This program gives the young residents an opportunity to succeed in welding, plumbing and carpentry. It also gives them the opportunity to earn their GED. We have built numerous playgrounds and donated over $8 million to children’s organizations in Tuscaloosa. Most recently, we have partnered to kick off the Saban Center, which will be an elite learning center in Tuscaloosa and have the children’s museum, theater and library. They will continue to make a difference in children’s and teachers’ lives.
Kristen’s Top Picks
Where to eat in Tuscaloosa?
Chuck’s Fish, FIVE, Depalma’s Italian Cafe and Evangeline’s for dinner; Babe’s Doughnuts for game day breakfast; and Heat Pizza Bar or Buffalo Phil’s for Sunday lunch
Where to eat in Birmingham?
Davenport’s Pizza Palace, FIVE, Pappas’ Grill, Gianmarco’s, Bongiorno, Rojo, Full Moon Bar-B-Que and Salem’s Diner
Where to shop for game day?
Beverly’s Decor and More in Tuscaloosa, Mobley and Sons for my husband, and Chico’s for my mom