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Nick Saban retires as Alabama's football coach after a record 7 national titles

Alabama head coach Nick Saban reacts after a second-half touchdown during the Rose Bowl CFP NCAA semifinal college football game against eventual national champion Michigan on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Pasadena, Calif.
Kyusung Gong
/
AP
Alabama head coach Nick Saban reacts after a second-half touchdown during the Rose Bowl CFP NCAA semifinal college football game against eventual national champion Michigan on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Pasadena, Calif.

Updated January 10, 2024 at 9:53 PM ET

Nick Saban's coaching reign has come to an end. His dominance over college football, however, will forever linger in the lore of the sport.

Saban, who won seven national championships — more than any other major college football coach — and turned Alabama back into a national powerhouse that shattered an Associated Press poll record for most consecutive seasons at No. 1, announced his retirement Wednesday.

"The University of Alabama has been a very special place to Terry and me," Saban said in a statement. "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 72-year-old Saban restored a Crimson Tide program once ruled by Paul "Bear" Bryant to the top of college football after taking over in 2007. As he stacked his wins, Saban's celebrity status reached royalty levels in the state of Alabama.

A record-breaking run at No. 1

For a time, he was the sport's overlord and there was little that could be done to stop him.

Saban won six of his titles during his 17 seasons at Alabama. He won his first with LSU in 2003. His Tide teams were ranked No. 1 in the AP poll in a remarkable 15 straight seasons, breaking the old record of seven held by Miami.

Saban's wife, Terry, posted about their "incredible run" at Alabama on the Facebook page for Nick's Kids Foundation.

"We hope that the Saban legacy will be about helping others and making a positive difference in people's lives as well as the winning tradition on the field," Terry Saban wrote.

Saban's retirement ends a career that has helped launch or relaunch the head coaching careers of Georgia's Kirby Smart, Texas' Steve Sarkisian and Mississippi's Lane Kiffin.

Falling just short in his final season

He finished just shy of the top in his final season, leading the Tide from a shaky start to a Southeastern Conference championship and back into the College Football Playoff before falling in overtime to Michigan in a semifinal game at the Rose Bowl.

Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne called him "one of the greatest coaches of all time, in any sport."

Saban led the Tide to nine SEC championships and won his first national title at Alabama with a 14-0 season in 2009. Titles came again in 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2020. He also won the SEC with LSU in 2001 and 2003.

After a 7-6 debut campaign in 2007, Saban won at least 10 games for his final 16 seasons.

It wasn't until the rise of Dabo Swinney's Clemson teams in the late 2010s and later Smart's Georgia Bulldogs that any school could be considered a consistent threat to the Tide.

Saban has stepped away as the fabric of college football undergoes dramatic change. Colorado's Deion Sanders, a coach who has sought to capitalize on the intervention of players profiting financially from their play on the field, said on social media that "College Football just lost the GOAT."

"WOW! I knew it would happen 1 day soon but not this soon," he wrote. "The game has change so much that it chased the GOAT away. College football let's hold up our mirrors and say HONESTLY what u see."

Terry Saban addressed the changes to college football in her post, referencing her husband's famed "process."

"The rules for the game of football may change, but the 'process' will never go out of style: hard work, discipline, the relentless pursuit of a worthy goal, not cutting corners, and doing things the right way for the sake of constant personal improvement, not for the scoreboard," she wrote.

Saban made a two-year foray into the NFL with the Miami Dolphins before returning to college football to revive one of the nation's most storied programs, which hadn't won a national title in 15 years. Saban is 297-71-1 as a college head coach, with stops at Toledo, Michigan State and LSU. But Alabama is where he cemented his status as one of college football's greatest coaches.

44 Bama first-round NFL picks

Saban coached Alabama's first four Heisman Trophy winners and churned out numerous NFL players, going 206-29, a winning clip of 87.7%. His teams produced 44 first-round draft picks, including last year's No. 1 quarterback Bryce Young.

During that span, he also adapted to the changing times of up-tempo offenses, churning out high-scoring teams after winning with some of the nation's best defenses, along with the new NIL and transfer rules.

He led Toledo to a Mid-American Conference championship in 1990, his lone season as that program's head coach. Saban worked as Bill Belichick's defensive coordinator with the NFL's Cleveland Browns for four seasons before becoming the first Michigan State coach to lead his first three teams to bowl games.

"I think he's the greatest coach in the history of football," Michigan State basketball coach and longtime Saban friend Tom Izzo said in a telephone interview Wednesday night. "There are a lot of great coaches, but what he's done and the consistency that he did it — in an era where so many people and things are coming at you — is remarkable."

Saban's latest team dealt with plenty of adversity early on, including a loss to Texas, but rebounded with the emergence of quarterback Jalen Milroe to upset then-No. 1 Georgia in the SEC championship game.

Saban didn't sound like a coach looking to give up the job any time soon after the game. But it wasn't a bad way to go, even without the title.

"This is one of the most amazing seasons in Alabama football history in terms of where this team came from, what they were able to accomplish and what they were able to do, winning the SEC championship, and really, really proud of this group," he said.

"I just wish that I could have done more as a coach to help them be successful and help them finish, and all we can do now is learn from the lessons that sometimes failings bring to us."

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," Sankey said.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press