Nick Saban Leaves a Lasting Legacy as Retirement Marks a New Era of College Football

After spending the last 51 years of his life coaching football, Nick Saban has decided to hang up the headset, but his legacy will never retire.

On Jan. 10, Nick Saban shocked the college football world by announcing his retirement. After spending the last 51 of his 72 years in the coaching profession, transitioning to life after football likely won’t be easy. Likewise, the CFB landscape will have to move on without one of the greatest coaches of all time patrolling the sidelines. But one of those is harder than the other.

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What Made Nick Saban One of the Greatest Coaches of All Time?

Saban’s level of impact on college football is unparalleled. We’ll get to his overall numbers and coaching tree shortly, but how did he reach heights never before seen?

Saban famously ate two Oatmeal Creme Pies for breakfast every morning and a salad for lunch. It’s not because he was on some strange diet; he simply didn’t want to waste time deciding his meals.

Although they can be viewed as clichés when not properly incorporated, Saban believed “every minute counts” and “the little things matter.” In a sport where all 11 men on the field have to operate in unison to execute a play, it’s hard to argue against drilling the details.

In the same vein, Saban preached focusing on the process rather than the outcome. Outcomes are one-off events where luck plays a factor. But the process is controlled repetition. Whether he won or lost a national title, Saban was in the office the next week, working on the recruiting cycle and coaching vacancies.

When you get a whole team to buy into the process and be accountable, you get what Alabama has enjoyed for the last 17 years: success. That’s much harder to achieve in a profession with a large roster and coaching turnover every year, young men from all walks of life, and the recent addition of NIL.

But two of the more underrated aspects of Saban’s career were his willingness to hire toward his weaknesses and his ability to adapt. No coach is perfect, and every head coach is the sum of his coaching staff.

Much like Bill Belichick in the NFL (and there is plenty of coach-sharing between the two), Saban is known for his coaching tree. One look at that tree shows he didn’t just hire people similar to him (Exhibit A: Lane Kiffin); he hired those with strengths he didn’t have, creating a vast knowledge base aimed at one goal: winning.

MORE: What’s Next for Nick Saban? Will He Jump to the Broadcast Booth?

In concert with that, Saban set trends and learned from new ones — both off the field and on it. Sure, he’d complain and let you know how he felt (oftentimes to control narratives or to shift the focus), but he utilized everything at his disposal to gain an edge.

Saban’s legacy extends well beyond the gridiron, with the number of families he’s impacted, droves of men he’s inspired, and meme-able moments he’s incited being countless. His absence on the sideline will be felt across the country, but it also marks something simultaneously unnerving and invigorating.

The recent developments of NIL, conference realignment, and the College Football Playoff expansion brought a new era of college football to our doorsteps, and Saban’s retirement just kicked the door down.

Saban by the Numbers

Saban is the unquestioned GOAT, but here are a few statistics for your viewing pleasure:

  • 292-72-1 collegiate record as a head coach — he is the only head coach during the modern era of college football to average 10+ wins per season.
  • Seven national championships, the most by a HC (2003, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2020).
  • 11-1 in SEC title games.
  • Two Paul Bryant Coach of the Year, Five SEC Coach of the Year Awards,
  • Under Saban, Alabama spent 109 total weeks as the AP Poll’s No. 1 team — that’s over two years.
  • He is the only coach to have Heisman Trophy winners at three different positions (running backs Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and wide receiver DeVonta Smith).
  • Saban had more players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft (44) than he had losses with the Crimson Tide (29).
  • Players drafted from Saban’s Alabama teams have been paid over $2 billion over the last 16 NFL seasons.
  • A loss in the Rose Bowl to close out the 2023-2024 season marked the first time Saban’s Crimson Tide went three straight years without winning a championship.
  • Last but not least: Every player who was recruited by Saban and played for four years at Alabama won a national title.

Saban’s Coaching Tree

While not an exhaustive list, these are the most notable assistants who turned head coaches under Saban (program and years served with him will be in parentheses):

  • Offensive coordinators
    • Jimbo Fisher (LSU, 2000-2004): Florida State, 2010–2017; Texas A&M, 2018–2023
    • Jim McElwain (Alabama, 2008-2011): Colorado State, 2012–2014; Florida, 2015–2017; Central Michigan, 2019-present
    • Lane Kiffin (Alabama, 2014-2016): FAU, 2017–2019; Ole Miss, 2020–present
    • Mike Locksley (Alabama, 2017-2018): Maryland, 2019–present
    • Steven Sarkisian (Alabama, 2016/2019-2020): Texas, 2021–present
    • Brian Daboll (Alabama, 2017): New York Giants, 2022–present
  • Defensive coordinators
    • Dean Pees (Toledo, 1990): Kent State, 1998–2003
    • Will Muschamp (LSU, 2001-2004): Florida, 2011–2014; South Carolina, 2016–2020
    • Kirby Smart (Alabama, 2008-2015): Georgia, 2016–present
    • Jeremy Pruitt (Alabama, 2016-2017): Tennessee, 2018–2020
  • Non-coordinator positions
    • Mark Dantonio (DBs, Michigan State, 1995–2000): Cincinnati, 2004–2006; Michigan State, 2007–2019
    • Curt Cignetti (WRs/RC, Alabama, 2007-2010): IUP, 2011–2016; Elon, 2017–2018; James Madison, 2019–2023; Indiana, 2024–present
    • Adam Gase (Defensive assistant, LSU, 2001-2002): Miami Dolphins, 2016–2018; New York Jets, 2019–2020
    • Mario Cristobal (OL/RC, Alabama, 2013-2016): Oregon, 2017–2021; Miami, 2022–present
    • Billy Napier (WRs, Alabama, 2013-2016): Louisiana, 2018–2021; Florida, 2022–present
    • Joe Judge (ST assistant, Alabama, 2009-2011): New York Giants, 2020–2021
    • Butch Jones (Offensive assistant, Alabama, 2018-2019): Arkansas State, 2021–present
    • Charles Huff (RBs, Alabama, 2019-2020): Marshall, 2021-present
    • Brent Key (OL, Alabama, 2016-2018): Georgia Tech, 2023-present

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