Alabama’s Nick Saban announced his retirement on Wednesday after a legendary run in Tuscaloosa.
That means the coaching icon of the Bowl Championship Series and College Football Playoff era is moving on from the coaching ranks. That was either an era of glory or reign of terror depending on which fan-base you ask. Saban’s 17-year run at Alabama produced six national championships and nine SEC championships. He also won two SEC championships and a national title during his time at LSU.
He left a standard that will be almost impossible to match for his successor, and the SEC landscape no doubt changes dramatically with his retirement. Here is a look at the winners and losers from Saban’s retirement:
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Winners from Nick Saban’s retirement
ESPN could win twice here. The network has rights to the SEC starting next year, and the product will be enhanced with a 16-team league where Alabama isn’t the favorite every season. The phrase we coined over the years was, “The season doesn’t start until Alabama loses.”
Now, Georgia, Oklahoma, LSU, Missouri and Tennessee – all teams that are on the Crimson Tide’s schedule – feel like they have a better chance in that game. The league could have more parity in the scramble to get multiple College Football Playoff spots. Sure, Georgia will inherit that role and Alabama will still be in the mix every year, but the league will have more balance.
Saban also reportedly could be in the mix to succeed Lee Corso on “ESPN’s College GameDay.” That would give the network the strongest college football personality from the last two decades. That would be quite the get.
The rest of the old SEC West
Yes, the SEC is moving away from divisions next season, but consider how those schools who had to face Nick Saban every year must feel. Saban was 83-15 against the SEC West during his time with Alabama.
Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss combined for a 3-48 record against Saban. The Crimson Tide made the SEC championship game 10 times in 17 seasons. Those schools – in particular – stand to benefit the most with Saban out the door.
This is those schools’ opportunities to level the playing field in that corner of the SEC.
Nick Saban’s record against SEC West opponents
Lanning – who has compiled a 22-5 record at Oregon the last two seasons – at minimum will get a raise just from being mentioned in the Alabama coaching search. Lanning, 37, has enhanced his reputation with an aggressive style on the field and lights-out recruiting with back-to-back top-10 classes on the West Coast. He’s a former Georgia defensive coordinator, and the pull of the SEC could be more appealing than coaching in the Big Ten. Would Lanning entertain being the coach to replace Saban?
The Longhorns proved they could play with – and beat – the Crimson Tide in the past two seasons. Steve Sarkisian has built a national championship-caliber program with lessons learned from his time in Tuscaloosa, and the Longhorns look ready to compete for SEC championships from Day 1. Sarkisian is a name that could emerge in the Alabama coaching search, but why replace Saban given what has been built in the last three years with the Longhorns?
Losers from Nick Saban’s retirement
It was going to happen at some point. Saban led the most-prolonged single-coach dynasty of the modern era. The Crimson Tide won three BCS championships under Saban. The Crimson Tide made eight College Football Playoff appearances in 10 seasons, and the roster is stocked enough that the program will be a factor in the new 12-team College Football Playoff in 2024.
Alabama has been down this road before with Bear Bryant, who retired after the 1982 season. Ray Perkins and Bill Curry combined for a 58-25 record over the next seven seasons. The three Alabama coaches prior to Nick Saban went 67-55 in 10 years.
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On one hand, Smart no longer has to deal with Saban-led Alabama – which has prevented the Bulldogs from winning more national championships.
Smart – who was a defensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008-15 – loses his foil. The SEC’s Larry Bird no longer has his Magic Johnson. Rafael Nadal no longer has his Roger Federer. In that sense, there will be something missing when the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs meet on Sept. 28 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The Saban-Smart rivalry over the past few seasons, however, has been amazing. Saban had a 5-1 head-to-head record against Smart, and that included matchups in three SEC championship games and two College Football Playoff championship games. It was the best college football had to offer.
Saban is the GOAT. No coach has won more national championships, and it is the most-significant retirement since Bryant. That leaves college football with four active coaches with national championships.
Smart has two with Georgia, and Dabo Swinney has two. Swinney is another name to watch in the Alabama coaching search given he was a walk-on for the Crimson Tide’s 1992 national championship team. North Carolina’s Mack Brown won his national title with Texas in 2005. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh won a national championship this year but is a strong candidate to leave the Wolverines for the NFL.
Which coaches will join that fraternity in the future? Saban was the “it” coach for most of the last two decades with the top program in the FBS. That iconic presence will be missed.
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Here is the other end of it. What if Sarkisian – a former Alabama offensive coordinator – leaves to take the job with the Crimson Tide? Which Texas players would entertain coming with him? Then, the Longhorns would be left scrambling for a new coach. Saban turned down the Texas job after Mack Brown retired following the 2013 season. The Longhorns had seven wins or less the next four seasons. Would this be the blockbuster coaching move of the offseason?