Nick Saban, one of college football’s coaching greats who won seven national championships and turned Alabama back into a national powerhouse that included six of those titles, announced his retirement Wednesday after 17 seasons in Tuscaloosa.
“The University of Alabama has been a very special place to Terry and me,” Saban said in a statement. “We have enjoyed every minute of our 17 years being the head coach at Alabama as well as becoming a part of the Tuscaloosa community. It is not just about how many games we won and lost, but it’s about the legacy and how we went about it. We always tried to do it the right way. The goal was always to help players create more value for their future, be the best player they could be and be more successful in life because they were part of the program.
“Hopefully, we have done that, and we will always consider Alabama our home.”
Saban, 72, just completed his 17th season at Alabama, which ended in a loss to eventual national champion Michigan in the Rose Bowl. He won 201 games — tied with Vince Dooley (Georgia) for the second-most wins at a single school in SEC history, behind only Bear Bryant, who won 232 games in his 25 seasons with Alabama.
Under Bryant, Alabama reached dynastic heights, winning 13 SEC championships and six national titles. Saban returned the Crimson Tide to those heights, winning nine conference crowns and six more national championships.
“Simply put, Nick Saban is one of the greatest coaches of all time, in any sport,” Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said. “He is the consummate coach, mentor and leader, and his impact is felt far beyond the football field. … While his time as our coach may have come to an end, his legacy will live on forever. What an honor it has been for us to have a front-row seat to one of the best to ever do it.”
Saban was insistent on telling his players first that he was retiring before it got out publicly and did so Wednesday in a 5 p.m. ET meeting, sources told ESPN’s Chris Low. A regular team meeting had been set for Tuesday but was rescheduled for Wednesday when some players weren’t able to make it in time because of weather issues. Saban and his wife Terry spent the long weekend at their home in Florida before returning to Tuscaloosa on Monday.
Saban spoke to the players and staff in the team room for about 15 minutes, informing them that he was retiring. He then told them that Byrne wanted to talk with them. Saban left the room while Byrne was speaking and talked to his staff some more afterward.
For just about everybody in the program, the timing of Saban’s announcement was a surprise. He was interviewing potential assistant coaches via Zoom an hour before telling his players that he was retiring. He had also interviewed some candidates on Tuesday and, according to sources, didn’t want to continue down that road after finalizing his decision to retire.
In the meeting Wednesday, Saban thanked his players for the way they bought in and told them that he had thought out his decision carefully. But with the way college football has changed in terms of the transfer portal and tampering, NIL being used as a guise for bidding for high school players and transfers, and the recruiting calendar being extended, he told his players that the time was right for him to retire.
Sources told Low that Saban had grown increasingly frustrated with “what college football had turned into. He’s all about team and building a team and developing players, and now the only thing that seems to matter is who can get what in the NIL and who can get the biggest deal.”
In his 28 years as a college head coach — a career that included seven national titles, 12 conference championships (11 SEC, 1 MAC) and 19 bowl game wins — Saban never had a losing season. His worst seasons were in 1996 and 1998 at Michigan State (finished .500).
He made a two-year foray into the NFL with the Miami Dolphins before returning to college football to revive one of its most storied programs, which hadn’t won a national title in 15 years. He won more games in 17 seasons at Alabama (201) than the Crimson Tide won in the 24 seasons between Bryant’s retirement and Saban’s hiring (171).
Saban is 292-71-1 as a college coach, ranking him sixth all time in the FBS in wins and 12th in NCAA college football history regardless of division. He led Toledo to a MAC championship in 1990, his lone season as that program’s coach. He then worked as Bill Belichick’s defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns for four seasons before becoming the first Michigan State coach to lead his first three teams to bowl games and then taking LSU to the 2003 national title.
But Alabama is where he cemented his status as one of college football’s greatest coaches.
After going 7-6 in his debut season in 2007, Alabama won at least 10 games in 16 straight seasons under Saban, the longest streak by any program in the AP poll era (since 1936). This despite playing 107 games against AP-ranked teams during Saban’s tenure, 14 more than any other program.
He led the Crimson Tide to undefeated national championship seasons in 2009 (14-0) and 2020 (13-0), the only head coach in the BCS/CFP era (since 1998) with multiple undefeated national championship seasons. His seven BCS/CFP national championship wins since 1998 are more than double the number of any other head coach. Urban Meyer is next with three (Florida, Ohio State), followed by Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Clemson‘s Dabo Swinney with two each.
He might have lasted just two seasons in the NFL, but Saban continued to coach NFL talent since coming to Alabama. The Crimson Tide had three players selected in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft, which included their first No. 1 overall pick in the common draft era (since 1967) in Bryce Young. Saban has had 49 players selected in the first round — including 44 at Alabama — the most of any coach in the common draft era.
Saban also coached Alabama’s four Heisman Trophy winners while dominating on the recruiting trail. In the ESPN 300 era (since 2006), no coach has had more No. 1 recruiting classes than Saban, who boasted eight of the 18 No. 1 overall classes during that span, despite not taking over at Alabama until 2007. No other head coach has more than three No. 1 classes.
“Words cannot adequately express our appreciation to Coach Saban for his exemplary leadership and service to The University of Alabama over the past 17 years,” said Alabama president Stuart R. Bell. “His commitment to excellence has set the standard for our program, both on the field and in the classroom. We are grateful for the lasting impact he has made on the lives of our student-athletes and the incredible memories his teams have created for our students, alumni, fans and supporters.”
Just as legendary as Saban’s coaching résumé is his coaching tree, as his tutelage helped launch the head-coaching careers of Smart, Texas‘ Steve Sarkisian and Ole Miss‘ Lane Kiffin, among others. Other notable head coaches who were part of Saban’s staffs include Mario Cristobal (Miami), Brent Key (Georgia Tech), Dan Lanning (Oregon, a graduate assistant under Saban) and Mike Locksley (Maryland).
Under Saban, the Crimson Tide reached the College Football Playoff in eight of 10 seasons. He finished just shy of the top in his final season, leading the Crimson Tide from a shaky start to an upset of then-No. 1 Georgia in the SEC championship game and back into the College Football Playoff before falling in overtime to Michigan in a semifinal game at the Rose Bowl.
In August 2022, Saban signed a contract extension through February 2030 worth nearly $94 million that again made him the highest-paid coach in college football. Asked at the time if he would “still be here” throughout the remainder of his contract extension, Saban had a ready answer.
“Still alive?” he joked. “I sure plan to be here coaching.”
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey feels Saban isn’t done entirely with college football.
“Knowing Nick? He’s not walking away from the game. He’s walking away from a role,” said Sankey, who was in Phoenix attending the NCAA convention when he heard the news about Saban’s retirement.
With Saban retiring, Mark Stoops at Kentucky is now the longest-tenured SEC head coach (2013).
Regarding who will lead the Crimson Tide going forward, Byrne said his goal in the search for a new coach “is to be thorough, but expedient.”
“Our ideal candidate will be strong in recruiting and relationship building, player development, excel in Xs and Os and have the overall ability to lead this historic program,” Byrne said. “There will be plenty of rumors out there during this process. Next time I talk publicly will be to announce our new coach. If you don’t hear it from me, don’t believe it.”
Alabama’s odds to win next season’s national championship moved from 6-1 to 8-1 at ESPN BET after Saban’s retirement was reported. The Crimson Tide have the third-shortest odds, behind Georgia and Ohio State.
ESPN Stats & Information and The Associated Press contributed to this report.