It's official: Alabama hires Washington's Kalen DeBoer to replace Nick Saban

Kalen DeBoer is heading to Alabama.

The coach who led Washington to an undefeated regular season and a national championship appearance will be Nick Saban’s successor with the Crimson Tide, the school announced on Friday night.

"Coach DeBoer has proven he is a winner and has done an incredible job as a head coach at each of his stops," Alabama AD Greg Byrne said in a statement. "One of the things I told our team the other day is we are going to get someone who is not only a great coach with the Xs and Os, but also someone who cares about his players and someone I'd want my sons to play for, just like I would have wanted them to play for Coach Saban. We got that in Coach DeBoer."

Saban retired Wednesday after a 17-year run at Alabama that included six national championships and a winning percentage just north of 87%.

The deal is expected to be in the $10 million-per-year range and Alabama will owe Washington roughly $12 million in buyout money, according to Yahoo Sports' Ross Dellenger.

"Following Coach Saban is an honor. He has been the standard for college football, and his success is unprecedented," DeBoer said in the statement. "I would not have left Washington for just any school. The chance to lead the football program at The University of Alabama is the opportunity of a lifetime."

DeBoer’s record as a head coach rivals Saban’s, though he has coached for far fewer years at the top level of college football. Washington went 25-3 in his two seasons at the school after Fresno State went 12-6 under him in 2020 and 2021 in his first two years in charge of an FBS program.

Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer speaks during a news conference ahead of the national championship NCAA College Football Playoff game between Washington and Michigan Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024, in Houston. The game will be played Monday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Kalen DeBoer went 25-3 as the Washington Huskies head coach. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Overall, DeBoer’s teams have gone 104-12 in his time as a head coach. Before becoming an assistant at Southern Illinois in 2010, he was the head coach at NAIA Sioux Falls from 2005 to 2009. Sioux Falls went 67-3 in DeBoer’s five years in charge and had three undefeated seasons. The team lost just one Great Plains Athletic Conference game during his tenure and went undefeated in conference play his last four seasons.

Before coaching at Fresno State, the South Dakota native served as the offensive coordinator at Eastern Michigan from 2014 to '16, ran the offense at Fresno State for two seasons and was the offensive coordinator at Indiana in 2019.

Both DeBoer and Michael Penix Jr. were with the Hoosiers that season, and Penix was one of the first transfer additions DeBoer made when he became Washington’s head coach. After a college career that was marred by knee injuries, Penix became one of the best quarterbacks in college football over the past two seasons. After completing 65% of his passes and throwing for 4,641 yards in 2022, he was the Heisman runner-up in 2023 as Washington went 13-0 on the way to the Pac-12 title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

At Alabama, DeBoer will take over an offense that returns QB Jalen Milroe for 2024. Milroe was benched at the start of the 2023 season after throwing two interceptions in a Week 2 loss to Texas. After getting his starting job back in Week 4, Milroe improved as the season went on, and his combination of deep passing ability and speed to escape the pocket made him a dangerous player for opposing defenses.

Saban was intrigued by Washington's offense ahead of the 2023 season, too. Before hiring Tommy Rees from Notre Dame, Alabama interviewed Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb before Grubb decided to stay with the Huskies.

If there’s a knock against DeBoer, it’s the way his teams have recruited high school players. Washington’s 2024 class ranks just 46th in Rivals' team recruiting rankings, and Washington was 24th in 2023. But it’s also clear that he has found key contributors through the transfer portal. In addition to Penix, running back Dillon Johnson was a transfer, along with LB Cam Bright and hybrid defender Kristopher Moll.

However, Alabama has recruiting advantages that Washington does not, even as the Huskies enter the Big Ten in 2024. It also has greater expectations. Washington played for its first national title since 1991 on Monday. Alabama won six in a 12-year span under Saban and never went more than three years without a championship during his tenure.