Will Nick Saban stay at Alabama longer than any coach has ever stayed at an SEC school? A breakdown
You did the math. I did the math. We all did the math.
If Nick Saban coaches through his new contract, an extension through 2028 that was announced Monday, he’ll be 77 years young. At this point, perhaps it’s foolish to think that Saban won’t coach beyond that. He’s months removed from yet another national title and another No. 1 recruiting class.
Saban’s new deal came less than a week after Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski announced his eventual retirement after the 2021-22 season, when he’ll be 75. I already outlined why it’s extremely unlikely that Saban followed in Coach K’s footsteps, and that was before Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne made the timely announcement of Saban’s extension (the recruiting dead period finally came to an end on June 1).
Now, though, Saban is inked through the 2028 season. And perhaps there’s a better question that we should be asking.
Is he going to be the longest-tenured SEC coach we’ve ever seen?
Do the other math. Saban is entering Year 15 at Alabama.
For all the records and accomplishments of Saban’s career, standing alone as the longest-tenured SEC coach in conference history might be the toughest challenge remaining. Well, that and matching Paul “Bear” Bryant’s 14 SEC titles (Saban has 9).
Speaking of Bryant, he’s tied for the lead with most consecutive years coaching (head coach only) at an SEC program. Bryant, Ralph Jordan (Auburn) and Vince Dooley (Georgia) were all at their respective SEC head coaching jobs for 25 seasons. In total, 11 SEC head coaches were at their respective jobs longer than Saban:
- T1. Paul “Bear” Bryant (Alabama), 25 seasons
- T1. Ralph Jordan (Auburn), 25 seasons
- T1. Vince Dooley (Georgia), 25 seasons
- 4. Johnny Vaught (Ole Miss), 24 seasons
- 5. Wally Butts (Georgia), 22 seasons
- 6. Charles McClendon (LSU), 18 seasons
- T7. Frank Thomas (Alabama), 16 seasons
- T7. Dan McGugin (Vanderbilt), 16 seasons (30 total seasons including 1904-17)
- T7. Phillip Fulmer (Tennessee), 16 seasons (only including full-time)
- T7. Johnny Majors (Tennessee), 16 seasons
- 11. Mark Richt (Georgia), 15 seasons
- 12. Nick Saban (Alabama), 14 seasons (entering Year 15)
You should notice something pretty clear from that list. Richt and Saban are the only ones who began their respective tenures in the 21st century. That almost feels like it should be worth double with the way the league has taken firing coaches to such an extreme level. Fulmer is the only other coach listed who ended his tenure in the 21st century.
What’s wild to think is that Saban is the same age (69) that Bryant was when he died shortly after finishing his 25th season at Alabama. Bryant had the advantage on the front end, though. He was 45 when he coached his first game at Alabama compared to 55 for Saban. Among those 11 coaches, the average age that they started at their respective jobs was 38.
What’s now inevitable is that Saban will be older than the rest of the coaches on that list when he does indeed decide to retire:
Saban started at Alabama at the time when most of those coaches were calling it a career. Times have changed. Saban can credit a healthy lifestyle, modern medicine and an endless motor for that (also the daily Oatmeal Creme Pies).
But because of his late start at Alabama, he’s still at a bit of a disadvantage to be the longest-tenured coach in SEC history. To do that, this would need to be right around the midway point of his time at Alabama, and he would need to coach into the 2030s. Does Saban really have another 12 seasons left in him? I’d assume not.
You could look at that a couple of different ways. With Bryant in the rearview mirror in terms of national championships, what does Saban really have left to accomplish? He’s 154 wins from Joe Paterno’s all-time FBS/Division I wins record of 409. That would take at least another 12-plus years, which would put Saban into his 80s just like Paterno was when he coached his last game at age 84.
There’s also something to be said for the year-round nature of the sport that Saban deals with, unlike the 20th-century coaches who came before him. If there’s anything that can put a cap on his longevity, it’s that. The new Name, Image and Likeness rules were at the forefront of the discussion surrounding Krzyzewski and Roy Williams’ retirement announcements (even though Coach K downplayed that aspect). We don’t know how it’ll impact Saban, who can retire tomorrow and be considered the best recruiter of all-time.
It’s inevitable that Saban will continue to rise up the list of longest-tenured SEC head coaches, and he’ll continue to rise up the all-time wins list. He’s No. 6 with a reasonable 67 wins to catch Bryant and a bit more ambitious 90 wins needed to catch Bobby Bowden. If Saban averaged 13 wins for the remainder of his new contract, he’d pass both (he’d still be 50 wins from passing Paterno).
For all we know, Saban plans on breaking every record in existence and he’ll add multiple championships to his record total. Monday’s news of a 69-year-old coach getting a new contract to coach into his late-70s wasn’t a surprise. Rather, it was a reminder.
We can talk about his retirement until we’re blue in the face, but all signs point to the inevitable. The G.O.A.T. isn’t going anywhere.