Alabama coach Nick Saban retires after 17 seasons with Crimson Tide

Nick Saban is calling it a career.

The seven-time national champion head coach announced his retirement Wednesday. Saban spent the last 17 years of his coaching career at Alabama, and the Tide won six national titles during his time in Tuscaloosa.

"The University of Alabama has been a very special place to Terry and me," Saban said in an Alabama 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, led Alabama to three national titles in the BCS era and three in the College Football Playoff era. He led the Crimson Tide back to the playoff this year, though they fell to Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

Saban got his college coaching start at Toledo, where he spent one season in 1990. He then spent five seasons at Michigan State and another five at LSU, winning his first national championship in 2003. He briefly jumped to the NFL and led the Miami Dolphins for two seasons before he landed at Alabama ahead of the 2007 season.

In total, Saban compiled a career college record of 292-71-1. Assuming he doesn't unretire, he'll finish at No. 5 on the all-time wins list, 112 wins behind all-time leader Joe Paterno.

"Simply put, Nick Saban is one of the greatest coaches of all time, in any sport, and The University of Alabama is fortunate to have had him leading our football program for the past 17 seasons," Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said. "Throughout his career as a head coach, his teams have won seven national championships, 11 conference championships and 312 games, and he's developed an NCAA-record 49 NFL first-round draft picks and, most importantly, hundreds of college graduates. He is the consummate coach, mentor and leader, and his impact is felt far beyond the football field."

Nick Saban told his team he is retiring on Wednesday afternoon, ending his legendary coaching career.
Nick Saban told his team he is retiring Wednesday, ending his legendary coaching career. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Saban's retirement is a shocker, as there were no indications that he was ready to end his coaching career so soon. His departure opens up the most coveted coaching job in college football, and Alabama will be able to pick from nearly any viable candidate it wants.

Just how much of a shocker was it? In an interview on "The Pat McAfee Show" less than a week ago, Saban didn't sound like a man who was ready for retirement anytime soon.

"Because I'm getting old, I guess," Saban said when he was asked why people ask him about retirement. "I ask everyone that asks me that question, 'Are you going to be here for four years?' Some players ask me, 'When you gonna retire?' I look at them say, 'Can you guarantee me you're going to be here for four years?' They looked at me like, 'Hell no, I'm not making that promise.' I just think it's the way of the world now."

Is Saban the best coach in college football history?

Saban’s success at both Alabama and LSU gives him an incredible case to be considered the best college football coach ever. He immediately turned a struggling Alabama program into a behemoth and cemented the Tide atop the college football landscape in the 2000s.

After a 7-6 season in 2007, Alabama won 12 games in Saban’s second season and didn’t look back from there. In 2009, the Crimson Tide won their first national title since 1992 and went on to win two more titles after the 2011 and 2012 seasons before the implementation of the College Football Playoff.

Alabama won the second College Football Playoff at the end of the 2015 season and then won the national title again in the 2017 and 2020 seasons. The title game in January 2018 featured one of the greatest endings in college football history, when Tua Tagovailoa hit DeVonta Smith for a title-winning touchdown in overtime against Georgia.

Three seasons later, the Tide went undefeated and beat Ohio State for what turned out to be Saban’s last national title.

Alabama lost three or more games in a season just twice in Saban’s tenure and went to the playoff seven times in 10 years. It’s a run of success that is unmatched in modern college football; the three years from Alabama's last national title in 2020 to Saban's retirement Wednesday were the longest stretch in his Tuscaloosa tenure without a national championship.

Alabama's 2023 team hardly looked like a national title contender early in the season. The Crimson Tide lost to Texas in Week 2 and then struggled the next week against South Florida as QB Jalen Milroe was benched for the week. Milroe got his starting job back the next week, and Alabama reeled off nine straight wins to end the season, including an improbable victory over Auburn after an incredible, fourth-down TD pass from Milroe to Isaiah Bond.

A week after the Auburn win, Alabama took down No. 1 Georgia to create College Football Playoff chaos and earn a shot at the national title. The win ended Georgia's chances of becoming the first team to win back-to-back-to-back national titles since Minnesota in the 1930s and got Alabama into the playoff. Saban opened his news conference by saying just how proud he was of the way his team improved over the season.

"I think I couldn't be prouder of a bunch of guys on a team that has come so far from where we were second, third game of the season," Saban said. "I think this is a great example for a lot of people who want to be successful in terms of the perseverance that these guys showed, the character they had to overcome adversity, the resiliency that they played with.

"They're truly a team. Everybody's together. Everybody trusts and respects the principles and values of the organization and program and buy into them. They're all responsible for their own self-determination, which means they can go do their job.

"So I couldn't be prouder of a bunch of guys, the progress that they made, the way we compete."

Between his time at LSU and Alabama, Saban won seven national championships, the most of any head coach in college football history.

‘The Process’ and its adaptability

Saban stressed the importance of “the process” throughout his coaching tenure. In its basic form, Saban wanted his coaches and players to focus all they could on the things they could control in working toward their goal without worrying about the result. It was a phrase — along with “rat poison,” a term used for media and public discussion about his team — he used often throughout his career.

And while “the process” clearly got unprecedented modern results, it was a process that did a lot of adapting over the course of Saban’s time at Alabama.

The Crimson Tide’s run of success under Saban started with a dominant defense and an offense that was run-heavy and did enough to get the job done. Over time, it was clear that formula needed to change to keep producing championship-level success. And so Saban adapted.

A man who wasn’t shy about bemoaning uptempo offenses started fielding a team that ran more and more plays per game. Tagovailoa, Mac Jones and Bryce Young started throwing the ball more than any Alabama QB ever had under Saban, and the team lit up the scoreboard with future first-round draft picks at both quarterback and wide receiver.

In 2020, Jones set the single-season record for completion percentage at 77.36% (a record that was broken by Bo Nix in 2023), and Smith became the first wide receiver to win the Heisman in nearly 30 years.

Alabama’s success also came with a crew of assistant coaches that was ever-changing. Current college head coaches such as Kirby Smart, Jim McElwain, Lane Kiffin, Mike Locksley, Steve Sarkisian and New York Giants coach Brian Daboll all served as coordinators under Saban during his time in Tuscaloosa. At one point, from 2016 to '2019, Alabama had four offensive coordinators in four seasons after Kiffin and Locksley both left for head-coaching jobs and Daboll became the offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills.