Girl Dads of Alabama: Reflections of Crimson Tide daughters and dads

Last month, the hashtag #GirlDad started trending on social media after NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died in a helicopter crash. Despite Bryant’s Hall of Fame career and five NBA titles, he said his greatest joy was being a “girl dad” to his four daughters. Read about the girl dads of Alabama and their special relationships with their daughters.


Photo courtesy of Kristen Saban Setas

James Ogletree | @jameslogletree, Sports Editor

It was homecoming at Tuscaloosa Academy. The homecoming court was crowned, school spirit ran wild and football players were recognized as their careers neared their end. 

The cheerleaders would be honored, too – but Kristen Saban was going to be all alone.

All the other cheerleaders’ dads would be at the football game later that night to walk their daughters across the field as their names were called. But Kristen’s dad, Alabama football coach Nick Saban, would be out of town on a recruiting trip that night, so he wouldn’t be there to escort her.

She was used to it, though; it was just part of being the daughter of a football coach with an unmatched drive for excellence. She understood.

But that afternoon, before the coach left for his recruiting trip, he took a detour and surprised his daughter at a pep rally. In front of the whole school, he escorted her across the basketball court and kissed her while she beamed from ear to ear, bouquet in hand. 

“I had no idea he was coming or who planned it, but it was a huge gesture to me from my dad,” Kristen, who is now married and goes by Kristen Saban Setas, said in an email. “He made me feel so incredibly loved and special that day. I will never forget that.”

Though she acknowledges it’s sometimes tough to spend a lot of time with her dad, the family stays close by brief phone calls or taking a vacation after signing day.

“He works hard to provide for our family, and he does so many amazing things for us and also for our extended family,” Setas said. “Nobody is forgotten, and he makes sure to take care of everyone he loves. To people on the outside, it may look like he puts work first, but family is always his No. 1.”

The phone calls got a little bit more frequent after Kobe Bryant’s death on Jan. 26. The shocking helicopter crash gave Setas a new perspective on her dad, who flies around the country constantly for recruiting. 

She called him every day for the first few days after the crash took the lives of Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the other seven people aboard.

“We haven’t exactly discussed that accident,” Setas said. “I feel like it’s something we avoid but we mutually acknowledge. He knows why I’m calling more, and I know that he appreciates it.”

Setas is aware of her dad’s occasional reputation as a tough disciplinarian, but she said his interactions with his 6-year-old granddaughter – Setas’ niece – confirm what his players have joked for years: He’s softening up.

He has ended press conferences with heartwarming stories of hiding Easter eggs for her, and though his glare can terrify hulking linemen, little Amelie does not fear her granddad.

“He is so attentive to her and plays any game she wants to play or colors any photo she asks him to color with her,” Setas said. “He hardly tells her no.”

As far back as Montana Fouts can remember, whenever she was at a ballpark, her dad was there with her.

She went with him to his games as early as age 3, but she didn’t get her start pitching until around age 7 at a camp. A first baseman at the time, she saw other kids at a softball camp throwing in a bullpen and wanted to try it. She swung her arm in a circle, sending the ball rolling… and rolling… and rolling until it was 40 feet away.

Tim Fouts made eye contact with his 7-year-old daughter, and they decided they would give pitching a try.

For the first several years, they worked exclusively on her fastball. “Throw hard and hit your spots,” he told her, “and the rest of your pitches will follow.”

He was tough, though; if she had a bad outing, she would hear about it as they walked back to the car.

“I would get kinda chewed out a little bit – and I deserved it – on the way to the car, and then every time we’d step into the car, it was over,” Fouts said. “That taught me a lot. The whole ‘flush it’ thing, I guess I learned that from him.”

As Fouts continued to improve and gain widespread recognition, Alabama coach Patrick Murphy could see the rapport between Tim’s tough teaching and Montana’s work ethic.

“Sometimes it can go the other way, but I thought this was a good relationship,” Murphy said.

Fouts added: “I just feel like he should be recognized more. … He’s definitely the biggest inspiration to me because he always pushed me. If it wasn’t for him, I definitely would not be here. He’s sacrificed a lot for me to be able to do what I love.”

Jon Howell, the assistant coach for the men’s golf team, also has a 6-year-old daughter, named Sadie. He said becoming a parent is “probably the coolest thing you could ever experience,” but he was terrified to drive his newborn daughter home from the hospital.

“I was excited, and then, ‘… this is happening,’ came across my mind very shortly after,” Howell said. “You’ve never seen somebody drive as cautious, as slow and as scared. It’s literally like, man, people need to slow down. Everybody get away from me. I can’t get a bubble [big] enough.”

Howell said three times that he would do anything to make Sadie happy. One year, the Howells spent the Fourth of July with some friends who lived down the street, one neighborhood over. Sadie, who loved the fireworks and got to hang out with some kids her age, told her dad she wanted to live in this neighborhood.

So Howell did what he had to do to make his daughter happy: He sold their house and had one built within a quarter-mile of the old one. Having a house built is “a nightmare,” he said, but it’s worth it when he can check his security camera footage while out of town at a tournament and see her running across the yard with her friends.

“They’re laughing and they’re joking and you see how much fun they’re having,” Howell said. “It’s like, man, you’ll do anything in the world for them. That’s just kinda one little piece of how much joy she can bring into my life.”

Howell admits he was hoping for a boy when he first found out his wife was pregnant, but now he’s “elated” to have a girl. His favorite memories with Sadie are taking her to the beach for the first time, getting ice cream together when he picks her up from school and letting her put makeup on him, but he also loves the simple act of waking her up in the morning.

“You don’t want to scare her, so you’re being kinda gentle to wake her up,” Howell said. “[She’s] yawning and coming out of the dead of sleep, and the innocence and the look of her face that she’s never done anything wrong. It just takes your heart completely out of your chest.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.