1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …

There was something eerily strange about it all. There was Nick Saban, legs crossed and arms folded, staring into his coaching mortality as Alabama announced Kalen DeBoer as its next head coach.

A front row seat to the coronation.

Or an uneasy celebration for first guy who said yes — and agreed to step into a job fraught with the immediate danger and inevitable disappointment of replacing the greatest coach of our time.

And yes, the potential of carving a successful spot of his own, too.

“It’s a privilege to be chosen,” DeBoer said at his introductory press conference. “To be in this role is one I don’t take lightly.”

It’s one with a handful of critical first steps that will resonate throughout the first few months and all the way through the first game of the first season of the rest of Alabama football’s life, A.S. — after Saban.

It’s religion in Tuscaloosa, everyone. More so than anywhere else.

There’s winning and there’s upholding tradition, and they most certainly aren’t the same thing. Want to know why Dan Lanning publicly stated his intentions to stay at Oregon within 24 hours of Saban’s retirement?

Or why Steve Sarkisian quickly followed with his love for all things Texas, and why Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, just hours before news leaked of DeBoer’s hiring, called a team meeting where he would eventually talk to his team about his commitment to the monster program he has built and worked to sustain?

Because following a legend, historically, is a dead-end job.

It doesn’t mean that DeBoer can’t or won’t succeed. It doesn’t mean that he’ll be overwhelmed by the enormity of what he has walked into (probably from the moment the plane landed at Tuscaloosa Airport).

It just means that the odds are stacked against him. The guy before him was not only the greatest coach in the history of college football, but he tamed the beast that is Alabama football like no one ever did or could.

There’s no denying that, or avoiding it. So you may as well embrace it.

It begins by protecting your flanks (more on that later) and going full speed ahead. There’s no hesitation in this buildout — because, believe it or not, that’s what it is — no room for second-guessing what made DeBoer the choice in the first place.

He has a plan to win, and he has executed it over and over at every level of football: NCAA Division II, Group of 5 and Power 5. He has coached 116 career games and won 104.

He won 25 of his 28 games in his first Power 5 job, and he led Washington all the way to the Playoff National Championship Game. The verifiables are undeniable.

Washington OC Ryan Grubb, whom Saban tried to hire a year ago, will come with DeBoer to Alabama, as will a handful of other assistant coaches and staff members. There will be others, too.

DeBoer made a big statement by retaining Alabama RB coach Robert Gillespie and D-line coach Freddie Roach, both with extended SEC experience (player and coach) and both elite recruiters.

All good moves, all smart moves. All just the beginning of what will be more difficult as the weeks and months unfold, leading up to the season opener Aug. 31 against Western Kentucky.

“When I look at the places that I want to be, it’s about winning championships,” DeBoer said. “That’s an expectation that I cannot wait (to have), and accept as a privilege to try to uphold.”

2. Step 1: Roster retention

Saban was a magnificent coach, but he’d also be the first to proclaim that players win championships. Players make good coaches great.

That leads to DeBoer’s first — and most important — step as the Alabama coach: keeping the elite players home. He never really had a chance with WR Isaiah Bond, the hero of the Iron Bowl and an emerging national star.

Bond announced shortly after Saban’s retirement that he was entering the transfer portal. A day later, he committed to Texas — and former Alabama assistant Sarkisian.

Bond wasn’t the first Alabama player to enter the portal after DeBoer’s hiring (starting TE Amari Niblack did, too), and he won’t be the last. There will also be many more who stay (All-SEC G Tyler Booker already announced he is staying instead of leaving for the NFL), but it won’t be a quick process.

The current roster has 30 days from the day Saban retired to enter the transfer portal, and it will get another 15 days in late April — with the NCAA’s spring portal opening — after spring practice under DeBoer. Roster retention, right now, is everything.

Not only the current roster, but the significant influx of 21 midterm enrollees from the No.2-ranked recruiting class of 2024 — including 5-star QB Julian Sayin and elite CBs Jaylen Mbakwe and Zabien Brown.

Sayin and Brown are from California, and both chose Alabama — and to live 2,000 miles from home — because of Saban.

“It all starts in the relationships and communication, which builds the trust that we must have to step on the football field with great chemistry as you’ve seen years upon years upon years,” DeBoer said.

3. The QB question

DeBoer’s work with Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. was remarkable, transforming him from a raw talent with a live arm to an accurate thrower who dissected defenses and developed into the Heisman Trophy runnerup.

This leads us to Alabama QB Jalen Milroe, a raw thrower who significantly improved as a first-year starter over course of last seaso, and was one of the SEC’s best players by November. He’s a dual-threat quarterback, and the offense was built around his unique ability.

Does he stay at Alabama, and fit in a DeBoer/Grubb offense that clearly is built around a thrower at the position? Does he trust DeBoer to develop him as a thrower, or move to a program more suited to his skill set?

Or does DeBoer bring in his own player at the most important position on the field?

On the surface, it looks like a dream for Milroe, who has proclaimed since arriving at Alabama that he is a thrower — and insists on not being pigeonholed as “dual threat.” If DeBoer develops Milroe like he did Penix, imagine the possibilities.

A thrower like Penix — with the elite speed and athletic ability in the run game of Milroe. It’s a scary thought.

Now, understand this: Former Mississippi State QB Will Rogers, who committed to Washington and DeBoer in December, went back in the transfer portal after DeBoer accepted the Alabama job. Could he now become a legitimate option for DeBoer at Alabama?

Saban was excited about the throwing ability of Sayin, and Ty Simpson — the former 5-star backup — said earlier this month that he was staying. Freshman Eli Holstein transferred to Pitt, and freshman Dylan Lonergan is the remaining scholarship quarterback on the roster.

In a perfect world for DeBoer, he has Milroe, Simpson and Lonergan — and maybe Rogers — competing for the job in spring practice. After that, transfers will happen once there’s a clear pecking order for the starting job.

4. Replacing the legend, The Epilogue

It’s the greatest sequel in the history of coaching sequels. And historically, they’ve been hit and miss.

— Ron Zook followed Steve Spurrier at Florida and was 23-14 in 3 seasons before getting fired. The next coach, Urban Meyer, won 2 national titles.

— Ray Goff replaced Vince Dooley at Georgia and went 46-34-1 in 7 seasons before being fired. The Dawgs went 4-plus decades between national titles from Dooley to Kirby Smart in 2021.

— Lane Kiffin replaced Phil Fulmer at Tennessee in 2009, stayed 1 season and left for USC. The Vols then went through 4 coaches and 13 years before another double-digit-win season in 2022.

— Closer to home, Ray Perkins followed Bear Bryant at Alabama and lasted 4 years before leaving for the NFL with a 32-15-1 record. Bill Curry lasted 3 more years (26-10 record) before taking the Kentucky job.

Gene Stallings then took over and won a national championship in 1992 — a full decade after Bryant retired.

There can’t be another lost decade with the current Alabama program. Saban left it well-stocked and championship-ready.

It’s now up to DeBoer to figure out roster management over the next 3-4 months — and into the summer — and make it work in 2024. And beyond.

5. The Weekly 5

Welcome to the Salute to Saban, beginning with the top 5 coaches with the most wins vs. Saban at Alabama, and their overall record.

1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn: 3-5 vs. Saban, 101-54 career record.

2. Les Miles, LSU: 3-7 vs. Saban, 145-73 career record.

3. Meyer, Florida and Ohio State: 2-2 vs. Saban, 187-32 career record.

4. Swinney, Clemson: 2-2 vs. Saban, 170-43 career record.

5. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: 2-4 vs. Saban, 89-50 career record.

6. Ask and you shall receive

An NFL scout analyzes the top 5 draft prospects in Saban’s 17 years at Alabama.

“I’m going to lean heavily on defense, and not surprisingly, because Nick is a defensive coach. When I think of all of those great Alabama teams, I think defense — even though it kind of flipped over the last 4-5 years as the game moved more toward the vertical pass.

“But I’m still going to begin with Julio Jones. The perfect draft pick at an imperfect position. You never take wide receivers high in the draft, right? Not this time, not this kid. What a talent in college, and then from the moment he stepped on the field in our league. A grown man from the jump.

“As for the remaining 4, I’ll go with Quinnen Williams at No. 2, just ahead of Jonathan Allen at No. 3. Same type of player, both also close to perfect draft picks as you’re going to get. Disruptive in both the run and pass games, guys that had to be doubled. So much fun to watch them play. Allen may be my favorite player of Nick’s — from a pure standpoint of watching him dominate in college and the rare things he did.

“I’d go with Will Anderson next (at No. 4), a guy that had a predraft negative of regressing over his last season. Which, of course, was ridiculous. Look at him now — so explosive, so disruptive, off the edge. I would finish up (the top 5) with Patrick Surtain Jr. Love the way he played, so technically sound and athletic — and he loved to stick his nose in there in run support. Another really fun guy to watch play.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: the 7 degrees of Nick Saban for every SEC coach.

1. Georgia: Kirby Smart: Saban’s defensive coordinator at Alabama for 8 seasons (2008-15), and worked with Saban in 2007 (Alabama), 2006 (Miami Dolphins) and 2004 (LSU).

2. Texas: Sarkisian: Saban’s offensive coordinator (2019-20).

3. Ole Miss: Kiffin: Saban’s offensive coordinator (2014-16).

4. Alabama: DeBoer: Following the 2003 season, Saban was offered the Chicago Bears job. He declined, and Lovie Smith got it. A decade later, Smith would become the Bucs’ head coach, where he hired former Cal coach Jeff Tedford as his OC. Tedford eventually returned to the college game in 2017 — and hired DeBoer as his OC at Fresno State.

5. LSU: Brian Kelly. Tommy Rees played (2010-13) and coached (2017-22) for Kelly at Notre Dame before leaving to become Saban’s last OC at Alabama in 2023.

6. Missouri: Eli Drinkwitz just led the Tigers to their first 11-win season since 2014, when Gary Pinkel was coach. Drinkwitz regularly speaks (and gets counsel) from Pinkel, who was teammates with Saban at Kent State in the early 1970s.

7. Tennessee: Josh Heupel worked as tight ends coach at Arizona in 2005 under OC Mike Canales, who would later be hired (in 2021) as an offensive analyst by Maryland coach Mike Locksley — who coached with Saban at Alabama (2016-2019).

8. Oklahoma: Former Alabama linebacker Thad Turnipseed was Saban’s trusted football operations manager before leaving for the same job at Clemson under Swinney, where he met Tigers DC Brent Venables. In 2022, Venables took Turnipseed with him to Oklahoma when he accepted the OU job.

9. Texas A&M: From 2018-21, Mike Elko was defensive coordinator at Texas A&M under Jimbo Fisher, who was Saban’s OC at LSU (2000-04).

10. Kentucky: Mark Stoops was DC at Florida State (2010-12) under Fisher, Saban’s OC at LSU.

11. Auburn: Hugh Freeze hired Dan Werner as his OC when he got the Ole Miss job in 2012. Freeze fired Werner after the 2016 season, and Saban immediately hired him as an offensive analyst, saying, “Do I need to tell our fans or anybody on our staff the issues that we’ve had with their offense the last couple of years?”

12. Florida: Billy Napier was wide receivers coach at Alabama under Saban from 2013-16.

13. South Carolina: When Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, one of his first assistant coach interviews was with Mississippi State running backs coach Shane Beamer — who didn’t get the job at Alabama, but took a job at South Carolina as linebackers coach under Steve Spurrier.

14. Mississippi State: Jeff Lebby was OC at Ole Miss from 2020-21 under Kiffin, who was Saban’s OC at Alabama.

15. Arkansas: In 2013, Bret Bielema hired Sam Pittman as his offensive line coach at Arkansas. Weeks later, Saban tried to hire Pittman for the same job. Pittman eventually left Arkansas for Georgia in 2016 to work for Smart, DC at Alabama under Saban.

16. Vanderbilt: Clark Lea was linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Wake Forest and Notre Dame under Elko, who was DC at Texas A&M under Fisher, who was OC at LSU under Saban.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: A strange question, but one that needs to be asked. Would Saban ever return to coach another team? Or even Alabama if it didn’t work out with Coach DeBoer? — Marsha Flynn, Atlanta


Let me begin by saying I’ve learned, over and over, to never say never when it comes to coaches and hiring/firing and leaving/returning. But I think if you watched Rece Davis’ interview with Saban, you get some insight into how Saban came to the decision.

The most telling moment was when he spoke about working the 14-hour days, and that it wasn’t a problem at 50 or 60 years old. But now in his 70s, it had become a mental grind.

The overriding question for any coach near the end of the horizon: Can you make the mental and physical investment? Saban is in terrific physical shape, and he could’ve continued coaching for years. But mentally, it was wearing on him. Too many long days, not enough down time.

The desire, the need, to coach won’t go away. But can Saban fill that want with something else — be it in or out of the game, or a combination of both? He has his car dealership and his Nick’s Kids foundation, and he says he’d be interested in television work (imagine the bidding war between Fox and ESPN). He’d crush it as an analyst for college and NFL games.

I’d be shocked if Saban returned to coaching, but I’m not foolish enough to say never.


67: The number of coaches (permanent and interim) at the other 13 SEC schools since Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007.

Arkansas has had the most (9), including Houston Nutt (1998-2007), Reggie Herring (interim, 2007), Bobby Petrino (2008-11), John L. Smith (2012), Bielema (2013-17), Paul Rhoads (interim, 2017), Chad Morris (2017-19), Barry Lunney Jr. (interim, 2019) and Pittman (2020-current).

The rest of the breakdown, by school: Tennessee (8 coaches), Florida (7), Mississippi State (7), Auburn (6), Vanderbilt (6), Ole Miss (5), South Carolina (5), Kentucky (3), LSU (3), Missouri (3), Texas A&M (3) and Georgia (2).

10. Quote to note

DeBoer, on if he’d lean on Saban for support: “100 percent access, OK? I’d be a fool if that wasn’t the case. A fool.”