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What Alabama HC Nick Saban’s retirement means for Wisconsin football

If you haven’t been living under a rock during the last 24 hours, Alabama head coach Nick Saban — arguably the greatest college coach in the sport’s history — announced his retirement yesterday.

If unfamiliar, you can google Saban’s resume. It is second to none.

Historically, these massive coaching transitions didn’t mean much for Wisconsin football and the Big Ten West bubble. The Badgers still operated the same way, nobody was entering to take their recruits or coaches and matchups with the top powers were seldom scheduled.

Well, that bubble is gone as the Big Ten welcomes Oregon, USC, Washington and UCLA and the sport moves toward a two superconference structure. Wisconsin, whether ready or not, must exist on the same plane as the sport’s powers.

So, Saban’s retirement has several effects on the present and future of Wisconsin football. Here they are, succinctly:

Transfer Portal Mania

Nov. 13, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Alabama head coach Nick Saban watches the Crimson Tide warm up before playing <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/ncaaf/teams/n-mex-st/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:New Mexico State;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">New Mexico State</a> at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Saban leaving Alabama means Crimson Tide players get a new 30-day window to enter the transfer portal. That’s arguably the greatest collection of star talent on a roster in the sport’s history, potentially deciding whether to enter the open market. And the reason they’re at Alabama (Saban) just walked out the door.

So there’s the Alabama part of it. But the school will also hire a new high-profile coach, which will trigger the same transfer window at another top contender. Then that contender will need a new up-and-coming coach, which will do the same to the third school.

Put simply: there is going to be a lot of talent on the open market in the coming weeks. Wisconsin has worked hard in the portal all offseason, but any opportunity to land SEC-caliber linemen or athletes should not be ignored. This could be a big opportunity for Luke Fickell and his staff.

Dan Lanning is staying at Oregon

Sept. 30, 2023; Stanford, California; <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/ncaaf/teams/oregon/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Oregon Ducks;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Oregon Ducks</a> head coach Dan Lanning walks on the field before the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

As noted, Alabama will be hiring a new high-profile head coach soon. Many in the industry thought it would be Oregon head coach Dan Lanning, Kirby Smart’s former defensive coordinator at Georgia and one of the best young coaches in the business.

Earlier today Lanning shot down that speculation and declared he was staying at Oregon.

The biggest effect here is Oregon is now a Big Ten school, and Wisconsin hosts the Ducks on Nov. 16 this year. Lanning staying at Oregon means the program remains (arguably) the third-best in the conference behind Ohio State and Michigan, meaning tougher paths for the Badgers.

Look out for the next coach

Dec. 1, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada; Washington Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer celebrates after victory over the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship game at Allegiant Stadium. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Dec. 1, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada; Washington Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer celebrates after victory over the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship game at Allegiant Stadium. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

No sourced information here, but people have listed Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer as a potential candidate for the open job if others pass on it.

Washington is now a Big Ten school, and DeBoer’s presence clearly makes it a legitimate contender. If he were to leave, maybe there’s turnover within the program and Wisconsin can surpass it in the conference arms race.

Two former Wisconsin coaches would make great assistants

Head coach <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/players/7442" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Jim Leonhard;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Jim Leonhard</a> of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on during the game against the <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/ncaaf/teams/purdue/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Purdue Boilermakers;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Purdue Boilermakers</a> at Camp Randall Stadium on Oct. 22, 2022 in Madison, Wisconsin. John Fisher/Getty Images

Jim Leonhard spent 2023 as a senior analyst at Illinois. Paul Chryst spent the year as an offensive analyst at Texas.

I know Badgers fans have feelings about both, more so Chryst, and whether they would make great head coaches. But it’s undeniable both are attractive candidates to fill assistant roles, especially Leonhard at defensive coordinator.

This may not affect Wisconsin directly, as Alabama doesn’t really need to travel north to recruit. But it will definitely impact how closely I follow the program’s success.

Are there any jobs Luke Fickell would jump to?

Nov. 11, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin; Wisconsin head coach Luke Fickell leaves the field after their game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Camp Randall Stadium. Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Nov. 11, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin; Wisconsin head coach Luke Fickell leaves the field after their game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Camp Randall Stadium. Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

This is purely hypothetical, so don’t go crazy. There are about 10-15 jobs in the sport that are a true destination — somewhere you can win national titles.

Luke Fickell is in a great position to have success here at Wisconsin. But any of us would be foolish to look at Alabama and call that an inferior job. It’s more a question of what Fickell wants to do, and how attractive he would be to those big programs.

I’ll go out on a limb and say there’s no chance in the world he’s the next head coach at Alabama. But other big jobs will open eventually (Ohio State). I just wonder what that destination job is for Fickle, or if there is any.

Story originally appeared on Badgers Wire