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Nick Saban

What specific changes for Alabama football led to Nick Saban’s retirement?

Kirby Lee - USA Today Sports

We are nearly two months after witnessing the retirement announcement that shocked everyone in college football.

Nick Saban made Jan. 10 a day Alabama football fans will never forget. He stunned everyone by turning in his coaching hat for the University of Alabama after an incredible 17-year career.

The 72-year-old lifted the Crimson Tide back to its championship glory years under previous coaches like Paul W. “Bear” Bryant, Eugene “Gene” Stallings, Wallace Wade, and Frank Thomas.

RELATED: Why Nick Saban was disappointed with how Alabama players acted after Michigan loss

Saban propelled Alabama to nine Southeastern Conference Championships, six national championships, several top-ranked recruiting classes, and over 100 NFL Draft picks.

Alabama averaged 10+ wins a season under Saban, including two undefeated seasons in 2009 and 2020. People wondered why he chose to walk away after the 2023 season, especially with it being three consecutive years for Saban without a national championship. Kalen DeBoer is here as the new head coach, but more specific information is out on why the man who is arguably considered the greatest head coach in college football history walked away.

ESPN’s Chris Low broke the report on Saban’s retirement announcement.

He has more on how the Tide moved from Saban to DeBoer in 49 hours under the guidance of Greg Byrne, the Crimson Tide’s athletics director. According to Low’s report, Saban cited two significant aspects that led to him retiring.

He mentioned that his message did not get through to the players last year as it had done in the past. Saban was not pleased with how the team performed in the Rose Bowl Game versus Michigan and the conduct following the College Football Playoff matchup.

“I was really disappointed in the way that the players acted after the game,” Saban said to Low. “You gotta win with class. You gotta lose with class. We had our opportunities to win the game and we didn’t do it, and then showing your ass and being frustrated and throwing helmets and doing that stuff … that’s not who we are and what we’ve promoted in our program.”

Per Low, Saban met with players after returning to Tuscaloosa from California.

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It became evident in the meetings that Saban realized his affect on the players was not as captivating as it once was.

“I thought we could have a hell of a team next year, and then maybe 70 or 80 percent of the players you talk to, all they want to know is two things: What assurances do I have that I’m going to play because they’re thinking about transferring, and how much are you going to pay me?” Saban recounted.

“Our program here was always built on how much value can we create for your future and your personal development, academic success in graduating and developing an NFL career on the field. So I’m saying to myself, ‘Maybe this doesn’t work anymore, that the goals and aspirations are just different and that it’s all about how much money can I make as a college player?’ I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying that’s never been what we were all about, and it’s not why we had success through the years.”

Saban had to face a harsh reality that this generation of athletes are not the same ones he had in 2008 and 2009, when he was starting to build success for the Tide. He also cited relationships with assistant coaches becoming different as a reason he retired.

Saban grew tired of having to retool a coaching staff almost every year to remain at the top of college football.

“People wanted assurances that I was going to be here for three or four years, and it became harder to make those assurances,” Saban said. “But the thing I loved about coaching the most was the relationships that you had with players, and those things didn’t seem to have the same meaning as they once did.”

A changing college football landscape and lack of consistent continuity pushed Saban to the retirement route after the 2022 season.

Alabama finished 11-2 that year with losses to Tennessee and LSU on the road. The Tide finished with a 45-20 victory over Kansas State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl; however, Saban felt certain aspects of the team were slipping away from him then.

He pushed a team to an SEC Championship last year that overachieved. Alabama did not start the 2023 campaign well, but the group came together and made it to the CFP. Coach DeBoer represents the change that should work with today’s athlete.

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Stephen M. Smith is the senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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