Did Alabama Players’ Actions After CFP Loss Contribute to Nick Saban’s Retirement?

    Nick Saban's retirement shocked the football world earlier this year. Recently, the legendary head coach shed light on his decision to leave Alabama.

    On Jan. 10, 2024, Nick Saban dropped the bombshell that he was retiring as Alabama’s head coach. The news sent shockwaves throughout the college football landscape, as it seemed the 72-year-old would never leave the gridiron. While the sport begins a new era and he starts his broadcasting career, Saban dove into the details that led to his decision.

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    In an extensive profile by ESPN Senior Writer Chris Low, Saban and Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne spoke about the events leading up to the stunning announcement.

    Although Saban’s decision seemingly came out of left field, the process had actually begun a year ago. Following the 2022 season, Saban told Byrne, “This is getting more and more difficult on me. I’m not ready to do it now, but we’re going to have to start evaluating this more on a year-to-year basis.”

    As Byrne and his staff began preparations and preliminary research, Saban continued what he’s done for the last 16 years in Tuscaloosa: win. The Crimson Tide went 12-1, defeated the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship, and somewhat controversially made the College Football Playoff as the No. 4 seed.

    Of course, they fell to the eventual national champion Michigan Wolverines 27-20 in overtime. The loss was particularly difficult for Saban, but not because of his team’s on-field play.

    How the Crimson Tide players acted in the Rose Bowl locker room and back on campus weighed on his decision to end his Hall of Fame career.

    “I want to be clear that wasn’t the reason, but some of those events certainly contributed. I was really disappointed in the way that the players acted after the game,” Saban said.

    “You gotta win with class. You gotta lose with class. We had our opportunities to win the game, and we didn’t do it, and then showing your a** and being frustrated and throwing helmets and doing that stuff … that’s not who we are and what we’ve promoted in our program.”

    Maybe Saban could’ve attributed their actions to young men acting out in a moment of passion. But when meeting with players at Alabama after the contest, he felt that, in the new age of the transfer portal and NIL, his message was beginning to fall on deaf ears:

    “I thought we could have a hell of a team next year, and then maybe 70 or 80 percent of the players you talk to, all they want to know is two things: What assurances do I have that I’m going to play because they’re thinking about transferring, and how much are you going to pay me?”

    “Our program here was always built on how much value can we create for your future and your personal development, academic success in graduating, and developing an NFL career on the field,” Saban continued.

    “So I’m saying to myself, ‘Maybe this doesn’t work anymore, that the goals and aspirations are just different and that it’s all about how much money can I make as a college player?’ I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m just saying that’s never been what we were all about, and it’s not why we had success through the years.”

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    Another factor weighing on Saban was the constant turnover of Alabama’s coaching staff. In the last 11 years, he’s hired seven offensive coordinators, and in 2018, seven assistants left the program. As he aged, Saban found it more and more difficult to retain staff members.

    “People wanted assurances that I was going to be here for three or four years, and it became harder to make those assurances,” he explained. “But the thing I loved about coaching the most was the relationships that you had with players, and those things didn’t seem to have the same meaning as they once did.”

    Every year, Saban and his wife, Terry, take a trip after the season to reset and spend time together. But when they flew out to Florida in early January, they knew there was an alternative reason.

    “That’s one of the reasons we went, to discuss whether I would keep coaching,” Saban said. “But she didn’t know. I didn’t really know. It’s just not something I think about during the season, but that was the time to think about it and talk about it, for both of us.”

    While in the Sunshine State, Saban spoke with Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells and former Alabama coach Gene Stallings, and both gave him similar messages: “You never know quite when it’s the right time, but you kind of also know in the back of your mind when it’s the right time. And that’s sort of the way I was feeling.”

    Still, when they returned to Tuscaloosa, Saban hadn’t made up his mind. Even on Jan. 10, he entered his office at his usual time, met with staff members, and conducted interviews with assistant coaches.

    Head athletic trainer Jeff Allen, who came to Alabama with Saban in 2007, said, “That’s just him. He was going to work right up until the very end, and that’s what he did. It’s a big part of why he’s the best to ever do it, that singular focus.”

    Saban reflected on the day, saying, “I’m sitting there looking at the clock, talking to Ms. Terry, and … I guess I still wasn’t 100 percent sure. I thought it was the right time for us. I didn’t like how it would impact the program, the players, the coaches, the people in the organization, the university. That part of it was really hard.

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    “But it was inevitable that it was going to happen at some point in time, and I didn’t want to ride the program down. It was just the right time.”

    While Saban’s decision appeared abrupt, it was really years in the making. College football was evolving; at 72, he felt it was time to let it evolve without him. The sport won’t be the same without him on the sidelines, but Saban won’t be too far, joining ESPN’s College GameDay as an analyst.

    Miss any action from the top college QB Rankings during the 2023 football season? Want to track all the movement with the college football transfer portal? College Football Network has you covered with that and more!

    1 COMMENT

    1. I was shocked about Nick Saban retiring but also Nick Saban must realize that teams in his conference and division is getting better and players are going through the transfer portal because they want more playing time now the Georgia Bulldogs are the best team now

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