Nick Saban says decision to retire, which went down to the wire, came down to age

Former Alabama head coach Nick Saban's decision to retire after 17 seasons with the Crimson Tide didn't come easily. What's more, it almost didn't happen.

The 72-year-old sat down with Rece Davis for "SportsCenter" on Thursday and cited his age as the determining factor. Even though the "mental grind" of this season weighed on him, he nearly returned.

Saban confirmed reports that he went about Tuesday like a normal day, interviewing coaches and potential new staff members. But during a team meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday, he informed his team that he was retiring. At 3:55 p.m., he was still deciding which way the speech would go.

"It was a hard decision. I love coaching. I love the relationship with the players," Saban said. "But at the same time, I felt like I could have done a better job if I was younger."

Saban didn't feel like he could offer a guarantee that he would still be working for four more years, something he expressed on "The Pat McAfee Show" less than a week before he retired. For the coach, the recruiting, scheming and organizing were simply taking a toll. He made a point to dispel multiple rumors implying otherwise.

"There's no illness. Miss Terry's fine. I'm fine," Saban said, referencing his wife of 52 years. "When I was young, you know, I could work 'til 2 in the morning, get up at 6 and be there the next day and be full of energy and go for it, but when you get a little older, that gets a little tougher, and I'm sure a lot of people can relate to that."

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 01: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide walks to the field before the CFP Semifinal Rose Bowl Game against the Michigan Wolverines at Rose Bowl Stadium on January 1, 2024 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images)
Former Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban opened up about his decision to step away. (Photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images)

He ends his career at Alabama with six national titles and a 206-29 overall record. He also won a national title with LSU in 2003.

"I just have a high standard for how I do things, and if I don't feel like I'm living up to that standard, I'm really disappointed," Saban said. Still, that doesn't mean he took issue with his most recent campaign.

After a rocky start, Alabama ended the 2023 regular season with an 8-0 record in the SEC, plus a conference title, and made it to the College Football Playoff. With an overtime loss to No. 1 Michigan in the Rose Bowl, Saban went three straight years without a national title for the first time in his tenure.

"I wasn't disappointed in the season. I wasn't disappointed in the team. I wasn't disappointed in the players," Saban said Thursday. "In fact, this team was fun to coach, and they came a long ways, and I was really proud of the way everybody bought in and did what they did to have the success that we had."

Hours before making a final address to his team Wednesday, Saban joined a call for SEC head football coaches. That sequence of events fueled speculation that he was unhappy with college football's landscape changing, with NIL and other developments.

"Don't make it about that. It's not about that," Saban said. "To me, if you choose to coach, you don't need to be complaining about all that stuff. You need to adjust to it and adapt to it and do the best you can under the circumstances and not complain about it."

Saban conceded that some people are frustrated with some aspects of college football's new age, adding that he navigated the changes. He adapted in the NIL era and saw some success. Aside from it all, he realized it was time to hand over the reins.

Now, Alabama will search to replace a legend. If they need any assistance in the effort, Saban said he'll be there.