Nick Saban, a legendary coach in college football who won seven national titles and made Alabama a dominant force again with six of those trophies, has said he is retiring after 17 years in Tuscaloosa.
“The University of Alabama has been very special to Terry and me,” Saban said in a statement on Wednesday. “We loved every moment of our 17 years as the head coach at Alabama and being part of the Tuscaloosa community. It was not only about how many games we won and lost, but also about the legacy and how we did 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.
“We hope we have done that, and we will always think of Alabama as our home.”
Saban, who is 72, just finished his 17th season at Alabama, which ended with a loss to Michigan, who became the national champion, in the Rose Bowl. In 17 seasons, he won 201 games — tied with Vince Dooley (Georgia) for the second-most wins at a single school in SEC history, only behind Bear Bryant, who won 232 games in his 25 seasons with Alabama.
Alabama achieved greatness under Bryant, winning 13 SEC titles and six national championships. Saban brought the Crimson Tide back to that level, winning nine conference trophies and six more national titles.
“Simply put, Nick Saban is one of the greatest coaches of all time, in any sport, and The University of Alabama is fortunate to have had him leading our football program for the past 17 seasons,” said Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne. “He is the consummate coach, mentor and leader, and his impact is felt far beyond the football field. … . While his time as our coach may have come to an end, his legacy will live on forever. What an honor it has been for us to have a front-row seat to one of the best to ever do it. A truly remarkable career for Coach Saban.”
In his 28 years as a college head coach — a career that had seven national titles, 12 conference titles (11 SEC, 1 MAC) and 19 bowl game victories — Saban never had a losing season. His worst seasons were in 1996 and 1998 at Michigan State (broke even).
He spent two years in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins before coming back to college football to restore one of college football’s most legendary programs, which had not won a national title in 15 years. He won more games in 17 seasons at Alabama (201) than the Crimson Tide won in the 24 seasons between Bryant’s departure and Saban’s arrival (171).
Saban has a 292-71-1 record as a college head coach, putting him sixth all-time in the FBS in wins, and 12th in NCAA college football history for any division. He guided Toledo to a Mid-American Conference title in 1990, his only season as the head coach of that program. He then joined Bill Belichick’s staff as the defensive coordinator for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns for four seasons before becoming the first Michigan State coach to take his first three teams to bowl games and then winning the 2003 national title with LSU.
But Alabama is where he became one of college football’s best coaches ever.
After a 7-6 start in his first season in 2007, Alabama had at least 10 wins in 16 consecutive seasons under Saban, the longest run by any program in the AP Poll era (since 1936). This even though they played 107 games against AP-ranked teams during Saban’s time, 14 more than any other program.
He took the Crimson Tide to perfect national championship seasons in both 2009 (14-0) and 2020 (13-0), the only head coach in the BCS/CFP era (since 1998) with more than one undefeated national championship season. His seven BCS/CFP national championship victories since 1998 are more than twice as many as any other head coach. Urban Meyer is next with three (Florida, Ohio State), followed by Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney with two each.
Saban may have only lasted two seasons in the NFL, but he kept coaching NFL-level players at Alabama. The Crimson Tide had three players picked in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft, including the Tide’s first No. 1 overall pick in the Common Draft era (since 1967) in Bryce Young. Saban has seen 49 players picked in the first round — 44 of them at Alabama — the most by any coach in the Common Draft era.
He also coached Alabama’s first four Heisman Trophy winners, and was dominant in recruiting. In the ESPN 300 Era (since 2006), no coach has had more No. 1 recruiting classes than Saban, who had eight of the 18 No. 1 overall classes in that period, even though he didn’t start at Alabama until 2007. No other head coach has more than three No. 1 classes.
“Words cannot adequately express our appreciation to Coach Saban for his exemplary leadership and service to The University of Alabama over the past 17 years,” said Alabama president Stuart R. Bell. “His commitment to excellence has set the standard for our program, both on the field and in the classroom. We are grateful for the lasting impact he has made on the lives of our student-athletes and the incredible memories his teams have created for our students, alumni, fans and supporters.”
Saban’s coaching résumé is as legendary as his coaching tree, as he helped start or restart the head-coaching careers of Smart, Texas’ Steve Sarkisian and Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin. Other notable coaches who worked with Saban include Mario Cristobal (head coach at Miami), Brent Key (head coach at Georgia Tech), Dan Lanning (head coach at Oregon, was graduate assistant under Saban) and Mike Locksley (head coach at Maryland).
Saban took the Crimson Tide to the College Football Playoff in eight of the 10 seasons in the CFP era. He came close to the top in his last season, leading the Tide from a rough start to a surprise win over then-No. 1 Georgia in the SEC title game and back to the College Football Playoff before losing in overtime to Michigan in a semifinal game at the Rose Bowl.
In August 2022, Saban agreed to a contract extension through February 2030 worth almost $94 million that made him the highest-paid coach in college football again. When he was asked then if he would “still be here” for the rest of his contract extension, Saban had an answer ready.
“Still alive?” he joked. “I sure plan to be here coaching.”
With Saban retiring, Mark Stoops at Kentucky is now the SEC head coach with the longest tenure (2013).
Alabama’s chances to win next season’s national title went from 6-1 to 8-1 at after Saban’s retirement was announced. The Crimson Tide have the third-best odds, behind Georgia and Ohio State..