OPINION: Head coach title will have different meaning once Saban retires
By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Sam Thornton
TUSCALOOSA-When Alabama head football coach Nick Saban graced the microphone in 2007 as the Crimson Tide’s newly promised leader, he embarked on the continued legacies of leaders before him. Six national titles, eight SEC championships and 183 wins later, Saban has delivered as the undisputed benchmark of greatness in collegiate football.
Moderately lingering in the background, just as the humidity of Alabama heat does in mid-September, whispers of which next respected (or controversial) head coach will be crowned haunts the city of Tuscaloosa. After Saban signed an eight-year contract running through the 2029 season, it stalled the notion that we won’t be addressing it for some time. A deep sigh is exhaled by Tide faithful while ushering this sentence in their heads.
While it’s elementary to debate who Alabama’s next head coach will be, what’s more intriguing is if a current leader would actually want the position following Saban’s otherworldly produced ceiling.
Which brings us to this: Could Saban have created expectations so high that he’s plagued the throne of greatness in Tuscaloosa?
First, it’s worth mentioning that the majority of those with extensive college football knowledge do believe that the title as head coach of Alabama football is the greatest pedestal in the sport. The position will claim that prize for the next quarter century.
What’s interrupting the attractiveness of that position from potential suiters is the belief of becoming a sacrificial lamb under the largest microscope in the SEC.
When Paul Bryant sported the houndstooth cap for the final time in 1982, the following mentality of Ray Perkins deflated Alabama’s stature from dominant to mediocre.
While Bill Curry collected a few memorable accolades following Perkins’ departure, it wasn’t until eight years later that Gene Stallings entered the scene in 1990, reigning in some delight to dixieland.
Let’s take a recent historical side quest for a moment.
Lately, we’ve seen significant giants fall in collegiate sports, including basketball. Crosstown rivals in Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and UNC’s Roy Williams concluded a storied label in the thick chapter of tobacco road following their respective resignations.
After UNC head coach Hubert Davis grasped the torch from Williams following his longtime role as a Tarheel assistant, he led the program to the national championship game in 2022. His second season as head coach was quite the opposite despite having a near identical roster to the 2022 team. Failing to make the NCAA tournament this season, his presence has shifted dramatically.
Mirroring the family tree maneuver, Jon Scheyer succeeded the Duke program as a former player and national champion, debuting the Blue Devils to an ACC tournament championship. We’ll have to see if a down year is in store, which would prove the trend.
Even if proven wrong, this backdrop has meaning. If anyone is willing to obtain a head coaching role staring into a historical blackhole in sports, it’s likely to be kept within close quarters.
Even an example such as Jimbo Fischer is true during his tenure as Florida State head football coach. Following Bobby Bowden’s personality in Tallahassee, Fischer delivered a national title within three seasons after serving as a Seminole assistant.
Back to our topic, there’s only a handful of coaches who have put themselves “out there” with a desire for the future Alabama head coaching vacancy. Most of which, have been “in the family” before.
Ole Miss head football coach and former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin leads that pack, and his loyalty to Saban is still seen from 160 miles away.
“I’ve said it before, I really do believe he is the best coach to ever do it,” Kiffin said Thursday at SEC Media Days.
“I take in all the information and look at it, instead of like, ‘Ok a record,’ he’s done it at a time of scholarship limitations where some of those older coaches didn’t have them,” he said.
Other potential coaches of capstone linage include Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian and Maryland head coach Mike Locksley, who both served as Crimson Tide offensive coordinators.
Without the “Bama factor” gene, it’s difficult to see a coach like South Carolina’s Shane Beamer, for example, implant a nucleus of amused composure to the DNA of intensity currently built.
And that, to those out there who’ve stayed with me on this rollercoaster of explanation, is exactly what matters in the end.
It was echoed by Alabama junior defensive end Dallas Turner on Wednesday when he took the podium at SEC Media Days. The expectation of “joyless murder ball” has to remain at the core of what Alabama football is, and must be accepted by the Tide’s next head coach.
The future head coaching gig at the capstone will be the best available, but it will also be the most grotesque due to its rare blend of culture and ego. It can’t be faked or transformed. It has to be born and soaked within some familiar soil.
Saban’s magnifying silhouette has to be captured in the same way every Saturday when the “Thunderstruck” instrumental is recited in the tunnel of Bryant-Denny stadium.
So, even if candidates are willing to accept their fate, there will be other major programs that are more attractive based on the ability to fail with less gravitational pull.
Openings like Texas, Florida State, Oklahoma, and others are admired which have significant donors that of course, do have expectations of greatness, but not like the ones who are mounted on Alabama’s Walk Of Champions, gazing into the yellowhammer sky.
Not meeting those expectations with a scripted A over your heart means more if you fall short. This is especially true when embedded four and five-star Saban recruits are on the expected roster.
The candidates will stick out like a sore thumb, putting all of their chips in and losing what they thought they could ingrain: intensity, assertiveness, and a competitive mindset that simply cannot be surpassed from Saban’s dense pages.
It’s such a high compliment to Alabama’s dynasty because it might not be replicated anywhere else.
However, we all know the saying that records are meant to be broken. Perhaps that won’t happen at Alabama or maybe it will. The odds are going to be long, and they’ll be even longer the minute Saban decides to hang it up.
Until then, let’s put our feet up and enjoy Paul Finebaum doubt one of the greatest coaches to ever surface the sport. Adversity will prompt itself this season for the Tide, and it surely will again in 2030 to a vacancy with different meaning.