There is no rush to contemplate Alabama football after Nick Saban. It will come, later than sooner. We can consider what the Crimson Tide will do.
Alabama football coaching legend Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant did not much retirement planning. When he stepped down in December 1982, he knew his health was failing. His declining health was not sudden. For at least a year, he was well aware his body was wearing out. Thoughts of retirement in 1981 were cast aside in favor of another season – or two.
Thirty-seven days after his retirement announcement, Bryant passed away from heart failure. He was 69 years old.
Next Halloween, Nick Saban will be 69. College football’s two greatest coaches are comparable in many ways. In terms of health, there is no comparison. Bryant was an old man at 69. Nick Saban at 68 has plenty left in the tank.
There was a second reason, Bryant knew he was finished. He could no longer close every recruit he sought. He knew Pat Dye would be tough to recruit against for years.
From a health perspective, Saban appears able to coach for at least several more seasons. There might be some symmetry in Nick announcing after the 2025 season, that 2026 will be his last. His personality will disdain a 2026 season, retirement tour – but, playing in Morgantown, WV is part of the 2026 season. Miss Terry might suggest a combination reunion/retirement celebration with their home state friends.
Offering two divergent guesses, Nick Saban will coach through 2026 or beyond OR, he will have a Bryant-type, recruiting awakening, seeing that hanging on would not be best for the Alabama football program.
At some point, he will decide and no one other than Miss Terry will have any say in it. He has earned being the Alabama Crimson Tide, Head Coach for life. He would never deem that appropriate.
Another offseason, and a strange one indeed, is a good time to consider what (if any) current coaches are up to succeeding Nick Saban.
The search committee of one, expected to be Greg Byrne, will consult with Saban. Alabama football fans will voice frenzied demands.
- “It must be a coach who has won a National Championship”
- “Only those in the Saban coaching tree should be considered”
- “Never Dabo”
- “Never Pruitt”
- “Never Kiffin”
Fan demands will be abundantly made. Greg Byrne will rightly listen to none of them. More politely, Alabama football fans can suggest Saban’s successor. Since ‘the when’ is unknown, suggestions are best made as if Nick Saban were to retire at the end of the 2020 season.
If any were interested, Joe Judge, Adam Gase and Jason Garrett would be on a quiet, Nick Saban, recommended list. Crimson Tide fans might prefer Judge or Gase over Garrett, but Saban has a long-standing, deep respect for Garrett.
The rub with all three is little or no recruiting experience. Which winds back to the Nick Saban, college coaching tree. Only head coaches, need apply.
For various reasons, four head coaches in the Saban tree would not be finalists. They are Billy Napier, Jim McElwain, Will Muschamp and Lane Kiffin.
Outside the Saban tree, Dabo Swinney would be considered. A fair number of Alabama football fans would not want him. Also, luring him away from Clemson would be a tough task.
Jumping back to the Saban tree, four names stand out. They are Jimbo Fisher, Mario Cristobal, Jeremy Pruitt and Mel Tucker. Jimbo may become damaged goods too quickly. Subject to further success, Cristobal, Pruitt and Tucker could become the eventual finalists. Such Saban disciples, any of the three would appear to be a handpicked choice.
Or Greg Byrne, as he did with Nate Oats, might go way outside the box of possibilities. If he does, that guy better win, win big and win fast. Such will be life for Nick Saban’s successor.
For Nick Saban’s eventual successor, expectations will be excessively high. They should be. Saban once joked if ever lost three games again in an Alabama football season, he would be fired. He would not be, but he nailed Alabama Crimson Tide expectations.