Nick Saban finally answered the inevitable retirement question by leaving an Alabama program while it still appeared formidable enough to regularly contend for Southeastern Conference and national championships.
The 72-year-old Saban announced late Wednesday that he is retiring after 28 seasons as a head coach, the last 17 of them at Alabama. He won seven national titles in all.
Saban said he settled on retirement after returning from a trip last weekend to his Florida home.
“The last few days have been hard,” Saban told ESPN in an interview Thursday. “But look, it’s kind of like I told the players. I was going to go in there and ask them to get 100% committed to coming back and trying to win a championship, but I’ve always said that I didn’t want to ride the program down.
“And I felt whether it was recruiting or hiring coaches, now that we have people leaving, the same old issue always sort of came up — how long are you going to do this for?”
The decision sent shockwaves through college football but the immediate impact on the team remains to be seen. His decision opened a 30-day window for Crimson Tide players to enter the transfer portal, and five-star wide receiver Ryan Williams already announced his de-commitment.
One reported potential candidate to replace him, Oregon coach Dan Lanning, said on X — just hours after the Saban news broke — he was staying put.
“I want to be here in Eugene for as long as Eugene will have me,” Lanning said in a video post that included the text “And I’m not leaving.”
Saban, meanwhile, said he’s not going anywhere quite yet either. He still headed into the office Thursday morning, like always, and said he wants to be around to support the current coaches and players.
“There are a lot of things to clean up, to help as we move forward,” he told ESPN. “I’m still going to have a presence here at the university in some form and trying to figure out all that and how it works.’
His shadow — and the statue outside Bryant-Denny Stadium — will loom large for whoever takes his place. Mourning fans placed piles of Saban’s favorite oatmeal creme piles around the statue.
No program knows better the challenge of replacing an iconic coach than Alabama, which took more than two decades to find a comparable successor to Paul “Bear” Bryant after his retirement following the 1982 season. Alabama cycled through seven coaches before Saban’s arrival, starting with former Bryant player Ray Perkins. (That number counts Mike Price, who was fired for off-the-field behavior before coaching a game).
All had at least one 10-win season but only Gene Stallings (1990-96) won a national title, in 1992. The next one came under Saban in 2009, a 17-year drought that would be hard to swallow again for ‘Bama fans. Alabama won its last national championship in 2020.
Athletic director Greg Byrne said Alabama plans a “thorough but expedient” search process.
“Our ideal candidate will be strong in recruiting and relationship building, player development, excel in Xs and Os and have the overall ability to lead this historic program,” Byrne said in a post on X.
He said his next public comments would be to announce a new coach. “If you don’t hear it from me, don’t believe it,” Byrne wrote.
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, a former Alabama offensive coordinator, expressed the challenges of replacing Saban in a 2022 interview.
“What could you possibly do right if you don’t win the national championship every year?” Kiffin told USA TODAY at the time. “You’re going to follow Nick Saban at Alabama? No, that would not be a good decision for anyone.”