With all he's accomplished, would Nick Saban consider retiring after the season?
Ever since Nick Saban came to Alabama — hopping on a plane and fleeing Miami to take the job only a few weeks after he said he wouldn’t — there’s always been a feeling that his presence in Tuscaloosa is a temporary gig.
This has remained true even though:
- A.) He’s 64 years old;
- B.) Alabama is paying him enough money to buy a developing country and turn that into his summer place;
- C.) He has now coached at Alabama longer than any other stop on his resume.
There’s no arguing the resume, for what it’s worth. At the moment Alabama is two wins away from what would be the fourth national championship since Saban arrived. It would be his fifth since 2007, having won that year at LSU.
Alabama has won the SEC West five times under Saban, won the SEC four times and boasts a winning percentage of nearly .900. The Tide has taken the field exactly five times without a mathematical possibility to win a championship — four of those were in 2010 — and has only been an odds-on underdog twice (against Florida in 2009, and at Georgia earlier this season).
Which is to say, it’s tough to see how much more Nick Saban can accomplish at Alabama. And it might make perfect sense for him to walk away from it once the season is over – however it ends.
Don’t mistake this for a prediction. It’s not.
For a moment, though, let us consider a few facts as we understand them:
• Revolving coaches: Saban’s top assistant, Kirby Smart, has one foot out the door. Georgia hired him to replace Mark Richt earlier this week, though he has pledged to stay on through the playoff. He is reportedly attempting to take with him Strength and Conditioning Coach Scott Cochran, and no less than Paul Finebaum speculated that current Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin might also head for Athens. Smart has already hired Alabama defensive analyst Glenn Schumann to an undefined role at UGA.
• Incessant pressure: Saban is, by all accounts, growing increasingly weary of the various pressures associated with being the Alabama coach. Even in successful times, it’s an intense, high-pressured job. In various interviews, you can see him straining to understand why fans would find a 12-2 season disappointing, or lecturing fans about the etiquette of staying in their seats through the tail end of a blowout; or badgering the media for asking bad questions. It’s apparent that maintaining the standard in Tuscaloosa is a tiring endeavor.
Also, if you believe the July piece in the New York Times, Saban is bored. What gets the man up in the morning isn’t so much maintaining the standard as the challenge of taking on a previously moribund program and turning it around. Times sources made the case that he thought seriously about the Texas job not just because of the wealth, but because he simply wanted a new project.
• A different college game: College football is becoming increasingly difficult to coach, particularly for someone who loves defense as much as Nick Saban. In the name of “player safety” — read entertainment value — college football is increasingly tilting toward the offense, with rules that allow offenses to play at breakneck pace, hold and pick defensive backs with impunity, and run pass patterns with the confidence that officials will flag defensive backs for attempting to do their jobs. Saban gave in a little in 2014 by hiring Lane Kiffin and giving him free rein to speed up the Tide’s offense, but I wonder if he might just say “nuts” to the whole thing and let somebody else take over.
Of course, there are the daily pressures that come with a high profile college job: meeting with boosters, satisfying fan obligations, spending endless hours on the road pitching woo to narcissistic teenage super athletes. And the NCAA, a terrible organization everyone agreed to live with a long time ago because … money, I guess? That’s probably it. But dealing with that probably is getting old, too.
• A coworker of mine pointed this out today: At this point, two NFL franchises — Miami and Tennessee — have already fired their head coaches, and at least 7 others — New Orleans, Philadelphia, Detroit, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Cleveland and Jacksonville — may all have head coaching vacancies by the end of this season. Saban hasn’t flirted with any NFL jobs as far as we know, either publicly or privately, but if he’s thinking about taking another shot at the pros, time’s a wasting.
To be sure, there has been nary a hint of smoke out of Tuscaloosa that indicates Saban is even considering stepping away from the job – and the departure of Smart can tell us that he doesn’t believe the Bama job will be open anytime soon.
There is the possibility, though, that the man wakes up the day after the national championship game, his hair still smelling like Gatorade, looks at his newspaper and thinks, “You know what? It’s time to go home.”
If that happens, nobody can say he doesn’t deserve it.