Writing his own history: Why Nick Saban is retiring at Alabama
Just today my father-in-law — a professional lab rat who doesn’t have much use (or time) for sports — was asking me about the upcoming national championship game, and paused to marvel for a moment at Nick Saban.
“I don’t know how he does it,” he said. “And I wonder how much longer before he’ll retire.”
This was hilarious to me for two reasons:
- 1. My father-in-law is actually three years older than Saban and has thus far shown no signs of slowing down at his job (so the irony of him wondering when someone else is going to retire is beyond hilarious);
- 2. Even people who know nothing about the man wonder how much gas he has left in the tank. It’s a fair question. On the verge of his fifth national championship as a head coach – and in the midst of as historic a run as any in the history of college football – everyone wonders how long it can really last.
Buried within the first question is this: Yeah, but how long is Nick Saban going to keep doing this?
Few people drive themselves as hard as head football coaches, and Saban is king of that group. There’s a story buried in the middle of Monte Burke’s recent biography of the man about how the Sabans adopted both their children. Terry Saban, Nick’s wife, essentially told a group that the two never procreated, in part because Nick simply couldn’t make the time.
The other thing that everyone wonders when it comes to Saban, though, is exactly where he’s retiring. Saban is as notorious for his wandering eye as he is for his knowledge of secondary coverages. The man has criss-crossed half of the country searching for a better situation, or at least a more comfortable one. His stint at Alabama is already his longest at any post.
Since he came to Alabama in 2007, Saban’s name has come up as a potential replacement for a number of NFL head coaches. It was briefly was floated by some internet trolls in West Virginia at one point and, yes, there’s always been the big-bucks Texas talk.
That Texas rumor, depending on who you ask, was more than just a rumor. The story goes that Saban — through his agent and people who were connected with the program — had tired of maintaining the standard he set at Alabama. The challenge of turning around a program like Texas — with successful turnarounds at LSU and Alabama already part of his resume — would essentially cement his legacy.
It never came to fruition, in part because it was never clear how serious Saban was about the whole thing, and in part because UA was sufficiently spooked into raising his salary, liquidating all of his debts, buying his house, and practically promising him every five-star recruit born in the state of Alabama for the next decade.
But reading the man’s public comments after the 2014 season — when fans were openly disappointed at a 12-2 season that included an SEC championship and a playoff appearance — it’s clear the weight of being Alabama’s head coach in this era is wearing thin.
Even with all that said, the smart money remains on Saban staying put for what’s left of his career. This past week has been somewhat telling in that regard, if only because, with all the NFL jobs that were open or rumored to be opening, Saban’s name barely came up. Kevin Sumlin’s name came up, but not Nick Saban’s. It’s possible they were just really good at keeping it clandestine, but seeing as how that’s never been the case before, it seems unlikely.
So, let’s settle it: Nick Saban retires in Tuscaloosa. I couldn’t say when — maybe he wakes up one morning like his buddy Steve Spurrier, drives to the office and says, “Call a press conference for 11 a.m. This is over.”
Maybe he coaches to the very end like Bear Bryant did. Or maybe he really does get to go take that pontoon boat ride he’s been talking about.
Any of those scenarios are in play. But he’s going to retire as Alabama’s head coach, and that’s how he’s going into the history books.