In a seismic shift to the college football landscape. legendary Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban informed his players during a team meeting on Wednesday that he’s retiring after winning 201 games and six national championships during his 17-year tenure in Tuscaloosa, ending one of the sport’s great dynasties.
Saban just informed his team that he’s retiring.— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) January 10, 2024
The news comes months after the Longhorns went into Tuscaloosa and pulled out a rare road win over the Crimson Tide, a victory that propelled Texas into the College Football Playoffs for the first time, and just before head coach Steve Sarkisian leads his program into the SEC, a conference that suddenly looks much different without Saban presiding over it.
The ties between Texas and Saban have been strong over the years.
Texas and Alabama met in the national championship game following the 2009 season and the loss sent Mack Brown spiraling out during an offseason that featured the ill-fated decision to pivot to a power run game that ultimately cratered Brown’s tenure and led to his firing four years later after posting a 30-21 record in the four seasons after the defeat by the Crimson Tide.
Even the end of Brown’s tenure was tied to Saban, whose agent Jimmy Sexton reached out to former Texas Regent Tom Hicks in 2012 to express Saban’s interest in coaching the Longhorns. Brown had discussed the possibility of retiring in the wake of the loss in the 2010 national championship, but dug in after Hicks informed Brown of Saban’s interest, which became public the next year as Brown tried to hold onto his job, leading to the infamous Red Banquet during which the news broke that Saban had finally signed his contract extension at Alabama. Brown resigned the next day.
Most recently, Texas hired Sarkisian from Alabama after Saban helped resurrect Sarkisian’s career following his high-profile termination from USC amid alcohol-related issues. At a time when Sarkisian says no one would even take his calls, Saban took him on as an analyst in 2016, then made him interim offensive coordinator for the national championship game against Clemson when Lane Kiffin left to take over the Florida Atlantic program.
Sarkisian landed the offensive coordinator job with the Atlanta Falcons after his year in Tuscaloosa, then repaid Saban by returning as the offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide for two seasons until the Longhorns hired him.
The two clashed in consecutive seasons when Alabama came to Austin in 2022, requiring a late field goal to pull out a 20-19 win, and again this season in the resounding 34-24 win by Texas that announced the program’s return to the national spotlight, the first home loss for the Tide since 2019.
Saban’s retirement could have an immediate impact on Texas recruiting with the Longhorns set to host Crimson Tide wide receiver commit Ryan Williams the month. A teammate of 2025 Texas quarterback pledge KJ Lacey, Williams recently re-classified to the 2024 class and is ranked as the No. 12 player nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite. Both players are from Alabama and the Crimson Tide have remained in pursuit of Lacy since his commitment to the Longhorns last summer.
An important larger question is whether Alabama interest in Sarkisian replacing Saban as the Texas administration considers a well-deserved raise and extension. Fortunately for the Longhorns, an initial list of candidates put out by ESPN’s Pete Thamel doesn’t include Sarkisian.
With no likely internal replacements at Alabama, here’s a quick projected target list. Dan Lanning, Kalen DeBoer, Dabo Swinney, James Franklin, Mike Norvell and Marcus Freeman. All come with complications and big buyouts, as it’s difficult to move entrenched coaches. https://t.co/0K2NWk8CtL— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) January 10, 2024
Even if Alabama doesn’t pursue Sarkisian, there’s no question that Saban’s decision to retire will impact the Texas football program as it moves to a conference that should remain the nation’s best even as it looks dramatically different without Saban at Alabama.