The Alabama Crimson Tide have just entered a new era. After 17 seasons and six national titles in Tuscaloosa, head coach Nick Saban announced his retirement on Wednesday. Saban’s reign at Alabama is considered to be among the greatest in college football history. During his time as head coach, the Tide went 206–28 on the field and won nine SEC championships.
The numbers don’t truly do Saban justice, though. The very presence of his Alabama teams struck fear into opponents like few — if any — others have done in this century. There are great teams, and there are great programs, and Saban turned Alabama into a great program. And now, the inevitable and yet impossible-to-imagine day has come. Saban is stepping down at 72 years old, and someone will take over his program. What comes next for Alabama?
They will likely stay within the family and hire someone who has previously coached under Saban. Second only in fame to his on-field results is Saban’s extensive coaching tree. Many elite coordinators and head coaches throughout the NCAA and NFL came up under Saban at one point or another, and will be able to carry on the culture to an extent. But what is the Saban-created culture without Saban himself there?
Alabama fans are not a patient bunch, but this year just might be a reset. With Saban gone, the transfer portal reopens for Alabama players, and it won’t be shocking to see a mass departure from the Tide to other established SEC programs. Expect to see Georgia, Ole Miss, Texas, and Oklahoma come in to poach Saban’s recruits in the coming weeks.
The Alabama name isn’t quite as fearsome without the man behind it, and those close games that always seemed to go their way may not fall in the Tide’s favor in the next few seasons. Of course, whoever takes over will have the chance to re-establish Alabama’s presence in a new era, and will have a solid foundation on which to do so, but things won’t look exactly the same. Everything changes with a new coach — the play-calling, the recruiting, the priorities.
The new coach will also be dealing with a group of donors and fans that have been kept fat and happy for years now, and will have plenty to say if things don’t pick up right where they left off. Saban made this one of the most difficult jobs to step into in the sport, and whoever does take it will need to be steadfast off the field as well as on.
After what would certainly be considered a shaky season for Alabama, what comes next might not look pretty. The program still has its reputation and name, but when there is rebuilding to be done, a lot of ugly parts will come out of what, up until now, has looked to the public like a perfectly streamlined process. To ask the fans and donors to be patient with Saban’s successor would be a fool’s errand, but that is the only thing that will allow whoever it is to succeed.