Nick Saban Leaving Alabama: Planning for the Inevitable


Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Saban is going to leave his position as head coach of the University of Alabama, and we should all get used to it.

No, he’s not likely to take a position with the Cleveland Browns, or anywhere else in the NFL for that matter. It’s also pretty unlikely Saban packs up and heads to Texas or anywhere else in the college game. Saban has repeatedly said he’s happy in Tuscaloosa, and that this is his last stop.

Regardless of whether that holds true, at some point Nick Saban will no longer be the head coach of the Crimson Tide. What comes after that will determine whether Alabama maintains its position among the elites of college football, or slides back into the middle of the pack.

When Paul Bryant stepped down after nearly thirty years leading the Tide – and died just a month later – the resulting power vacuum led to a revolving door of coaches as various factions in the administration jockeyed for power.

Alabama maintained a semblance of its former glory, even winning a national championship before scandals and NCAA probation sent the Crimson Tide football program into a downward spiral that only the hiring of Saban stemmed.

But even that inspired decision was in doubt; former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez had accepted the job before changing his mind, opening the door for Saban to leave the NFL for Alabama.

When Nick Saban does decide to hang up the headset, the next moves by the Alabama administration will go miles toward maintaining the standard Saban has set. What can be done to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself when the Tide coaching job opens up again?

Make Saban the athletic director.  Who is better positioned to run the multi-million-dollar business that is University of Alabama athletics? Saban has been instrumental in making Alabama’s athletics infrastructure second-to-none, and the transition from coach to administrator would be seamless. His organizational skills and commitment to excellence would allow Alabama to maintain its place on top of the college sports world.

Don’t use the ‘Saban’s Boys’ litmus test.  One of the biggest mistakes of the post-Bryant era was the insistence on ‘hiring within the family’ when looking for head coaches. There were some good hires (Perkins, Stallings) and bad ones (Dubose, Shula), but allowing history to repeat itself in the wake of Saban’s departure would be a mistake. Much is written about the ‘Saban coaching tree,’ but for every Will Muschamp and Kirby Smart there’s a Derek Dooley. Even if Saban is doing the hiring, priority must be on ability and temperament, not pedigree.

Turn off the fax machine.  Gene Stallings famously said that if you listen to the fans tell you how to do your job, you’ll soon be sitting with them. When Stallings stepped down in 1996, fans staged a write-in campaign for Mike Dubose to take his place, thwarting a push to hire current Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. When making the first post-Saban hire, it shouldn’t be a popularity contest; it should be a hire that serves the best interests of the university’s athletic department. If a solid hire is made, the fan excitement will follow.