We all knew it was coming eventually, and probably sooner rather than later.
It still feels a little surreal.
Nick Saban is retiring, sources tell ESPN. He won six national titles at Alabama.— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) January 10, 2024
Multiple media sources are reporting that Nick Saban will step down as the head football coach at the University of Alabama. He leaves as not only one of the winningest coaches in the SEC, but arguably the man who reshaped the landscape of college football. There have been dynasties for as long as the sport has been played. However, in the modern era, no one won as consistently and in as many different ways as Saban.
The numbers speak for themselves. Seven national championships. Twelve conference championships, including eleven in the SEC. 201 wins at Alabama, second on the list only to the great Bear Bryant.
Saban of course was compared to Bryant from the day he landed in Tuscaloosa, including here where we (and by “we” I mean “I” christened him) “the Armani Bear” after his first A Day Game (which he coached in a tailored suit with a houndstooth jacket). Saban has always been suave and television ready. I anticipate he’ll be all over your television screen during the 2024 college football season. Honestly, I’m looking forward to it.
Because Nick Saban was a rival coach everyone loved to hate. It seemed like everything worked out for his teams, and as if every recruit wanted to play for him. As if he had planned for every in-game scenario, and knew how to manage every press conference and social media distraction.
He appeared in movies and on commercials. As college football recruiting became a spectator sport all its own in the 2000s Saban was the undisputed king of the living room. A man who helped dad flip the steaks, complimented mom on the drapes, and built an army of future NFL draft picks cloked in Crimson. The folks at Rivals, 247Sports, ESPN, and even this site really owe him a debt of gratitude for that.
He was the ultimate Darth Vader of college football. A villain whose formidable powers had to be respected as much as feared. In this era of social media saturation even elite college football coaches are sometimes just reduced to goofy punchlines (cough, Dabo, cough). Nick Saban was a head coach you could really, seriously hate. That is probably the highest compliment I could pay him.
Another testament to Saban’s excellence and longevity is that we have all had a lot of time to think about what may come next for the Crimson Tide. Most of the names you will hear over the next few days to replace him will be familiar, many of them acolytes from the Saban coaching tree. A certain zealous portion of the Gumpian Fanbase will demand that Alabama make Kirby Smart at least say no. Certainly Lane Kiffin’s representatives will be involved. Alabama alumnus Dabo Swinney has long been rumored to be biding his time in Clemson until this job came open.
When Alabama last hired a coach they pulled the head coach of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. This is an administration and fanbase that believes anyone would be nuts not to want to be their head coach. Would they go after current Giants and former Alabama assistant Brian Daboll? Who knows?
But I do have a word of caution for whatever football coach accepts the task of replacing Saban. It’s good to be “The Guy.” It’s usually dangerous to be the guy who follows The Guy. We have not seen a coach like Nick Saban in college football for decades. As much as Kirby Smart may have something to say about it, it’s possible we won’t see another for decades more. He’s going to be the hardest conceivable act to follow, because he was the hardest guy to beat.
Congratulations, Coach Saban. From a guy whose otherwise delightful college football fandom you punctuated with periodic, unspeakable misery, enjoy retirement. And…