The college football world was blindsided on Wednesday evening when the news broke that legendary football coach Nick Saban would call it a career.
The seven-time national champion made it official a few hours after reports surfaced, ending an era of dominance rarely seen in sports.
“The University of Alabama has been a very special place to Terry and me,” Saban said in a 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.”
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Under Saban, Alabama returned to national dominance, winning nine SEC Championships and six titles as Tuscaloosa became the epicenter of college football.
His retirement is the end of an era in college football as the winds of change continue to blow throughout the sport.
Let’s take a look at five moments in Saban’s career that will always be remembered.
Saban returns to college football after brief NFL stint
Nick Saban changed the course of history when he returned to college football after two years of coaching at the highest level.
After winning his first championship in 2003 with LSU, Saban was hired by the Miami Dolphins on Christmas Day in 2004. He coached Miami for two seasons, going a combined 15-17.
Toward the end of his tenure with the Dolphins, rumors swirled about Saban going back to the college game. Saban denied the rumors, bluntly saying he would not be taking the job in Tuscaloosa.
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“I guess I have to say it,” Saban said. “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.”
A few weeks later, Saban was named the next head coach at Alabama and the rest was history.
“I am not upset with Nick, because it’s more involved than what you think,” Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga said at a news conference, according to The New York Times. “I’ve been through this with Nick for quite some time now, and I feel the pain and so forth and so on, of Nick and Terry, and it’s not a very simple thing. No, I think Nick is great. I’m a Nick Saban fan.”
Six championships later, and Saban clearly made the right call.
Saban replaces Jalen Hurts with Tua Tagovailoa at halftime of title game
Coaches are paid to make difficult decisions, and Saban made a tough one on the biggest stage in 2018.
Trailing Georgia 13-0 in the national championship game, Saban turned to a freshman quarterback after Jalen Hurts and the Crimson Tide offense struggled to get going.
Hurts had led Alabama to a 12-1 record on the way to the title game against Georgia, but it was Tua Tagovailoa who won Saban his fifth title at Alabama.
Tagovailoa threw three touchdown passes, including a walk-off 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith in overtime.
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“I think Tua certainly gave us a spark in the second half offensively, and I think that was something that helped us on defense as well as to put some points on the board to give us a chance to win the game,” Saban said the following day, according to USA Today.
“I mean, one of the first things that I said to Jalen was we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you,” Saban said. “You put us in a position by the plays that you made and the way you played all year long, but it just seems to me like, if we’re going to have the best chance to win this game, that we may need to do it in a different way. I think he understood that.”
Saban has enough of Tagovailoa-Hurts questions
Alabama entered the 2018 college football season with a quarterback controversy on its hands as Hurts and Tagovailoa battled for the starting job.
Saban was forced to field questions all summer over who he would go with, and he finally snapped after Alabama’s first game of the season.
Following Alabama’s win over Louisville in Week 1, a game in which both Tagovailoa and Hurts played, Saban spoke on the field with ESPN reporter Maria Taylor.
Taylor asked Saban what “answers” he had about his quarterbacks after watching both of them play.
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“Well, I still like both guys,” Saban said. “I think both guys are good players. I think both guys can help our team, all right? So why do you continually try to get me to say something that doesn’t respect one of them? I’m not going to. So quit asking.”
The clip quickly went viral and Saban received criticism for his reaction to the question.
Saban called Taylor to apologize for his reaction to her question, according to ESPN.
Jimbo Fisher and Saban’s war of words
The era of name, image and likeness (NIL) in college football sparked a war of words in the media between two former colleagues.
During the 2022 offseason, Saban took a shot at Jimbo Fisher, then the head coach of Texas A&M, as he spoke about A&M’s 2022 recruiting class.
“I know the consequence is going to be difficult for the people who are spending tons of money to get players,” Saban said, per AL.com. “You read about it, you know who they are. We were second in recruiting last year. A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image and likeness.
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“We didn’t buy one player. Aight? But I don’t know if we’re going to be able to sustain that in the future, because more and more people are doing it. It’s tough.”
The comments prompted Fisher to hold a press conference where he called Saban – without actually naming him – a “narcissist” while urging reporters to dig into his past.
The two coaches moved on and Alabama defeated the Aggies during the regular season.
Saban rages after special teams mistake
Few things upset Saban more than mental mistakes.
Against Tennessee in October 2022, Alabama made more than a few, committing nine penalties for 71 yards in the first half.
After finally stopping the Tennessee offense, the Vols punted from inside their own territory, but Alabama junior Quandarrius Robinson inexplicably tried to pick up a bouncing ball with defenders all around him, allowing Tennessee to recover at the Crimson Tide’s 40-yard line.
And Saban finally snapped.
In his 16th season at Alabama, Saban still expected the same level of execution from his players as he did on day one.
College football will sorely miss Saban on the sidelines and in the interview room.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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