Alabama Football: Looking back at Coach Saban’s final act

Rose Bowl Game - Alabama v Michigan
Rose Bowl Game - Alabama v Michigan / Ryan Kang/GettyImages

We didn’t know it yet, but in watching the 2023 Alabama Football season, we watched the GOAT do it one last time. 

Coach Nick Saban, perhaps the greatest coach in the history of American sport, abruptly ended his unparalleled career on Wednesday afternoon. 

Coach Saban’s final year was frustrating at times, and brought with it plenty of failures. It began with the most shocking home loss of Saban’s career, a 10-point defeat at the hands of Texas in week two. The loss marked Coach Saban’s third loss to a former assistant in as many years after being undefeated in such games for over a decade. 

The 2023 season also ended with a disappointing loss, this time to Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The overtime loss was made even more painful by the fact that the Crimson Tide was within sniffing distance of yet another national title. Had Bama finished the job, it would have been Coach Saban’s unprecedented seventh national championship at the University of Alabama. 

Still, only by the unwavering standard of excellence established by Coach Saban himself over the course of 17 years, could the 2023 season be considered a failure. A 12-2 record and a College Football Playoff appearance are impressive feats, but they don’t even begin to encapsulate the mountains this team had to summit. 

Alabama Football: Coach Saban's final bow

Coach Saban took a squad that lacked an identity as late as mid-September and ran through the toughest and deepest conference in the sport without a blemish. Alabama Football put together a 9-0 SEC record, swept the West, and defeated all of its rivals.

It took down Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium in one of the best college football finishes of all-time. The win gave Coach Saban a 12-5 record against Auburn during his Alabama tenure, including the 2020 game that Saban was unable to physically coach. Coach Saban ends his career with a 4-game winning streak in the Iron Bowl.

It avenged losses to LSU and Tennessee, beating both rivals by two touchdowns after losing to both on the final play of the game in the 2022 season. Coach Saban improved to 13-5 against LSU and a remarkable 16-1 against Tennessee as the Alabama Football coach. 

As loaded as the SEC West was throughout his tenure, Coach Saban absolutely dominated the sport’s most competitive division. In 2023, he improved to 10-2 against Texas A&M, 15-2 against Ole Miss, 16-1 against Mississippi State, and 17-0 against Arkansas. 

Coach Saban capped off the 2023 SEC campaign with one last championship. A 27-24 win over Georgia in Atlanta gave Saban his ninth SEC crown at Alabama and an 8-2 record against the Bulldogs, who were one of his most formidable opponents in the latter portion of his career. The GOAT finished his career with a perfect 9-0 record in SEC Championship games while at Alabama.

Coach Saban cited feeling tired throughout this most recent season as one of the primary reasons for his unexpected retirement. For the man who never stops working, even at the age of 72, this is beyond understandable. Even so, Coach Saban was able to prove to everyone, particularly his SEC rivals, that he was still the top dog. 

Alabama Football: One last title

It is not often that we get to see legendary coaches go out on top. Coach Saban fell just short of that elusive seventh national title with Alabama Football, but he did turn in a championship season and appeared to still be at or near the top of his game. 

We all would have appreciated the 2023 season a little more had we known it would be Coach Saban’s last, but that’s not what he wanted. Instead of a farewell tour, he showed up to work every day like he was still 55, and delivered results like he was still in the prime of his career. 

The 2023 Alabama Football season was bittersweet for a lot of reasons. Now, we will look back on it through a very different lens, perhaps with regret and even sadness. Most of all, however, we will look back on it with a genuine appreciation for the man Coach Saban was and all he did for the University and the sport, all the way to the end. Thank you to the GOAT for 17 incredible years, and for one final ride. It was certainly a blast.