Williamson High School rising junior Robert Woodyard has decided that he wants to play college football at Alabama. That’s no different from a lot of high school juniors. The difference with Woodyard is that Nick Saban is as excited as Woodyard that the linebacker’s career will continue in Tuscaloosa.
Woodyard, who is already 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, will be added to the list of linebackers who will leave Mobile to play for the Tide. Theodore’s Demouy Kennedy is a recent enrollee in Tuscaloosa, while Mobile Christian’s Deontae Lawson is a Tide commitment in 2021.
They will all try to follow in the large footsteps of guys like Keith McCants of Murphy and C.J. Mosley of Theodore.
Woodyard is one of only two players in Alabama’s 2022 signing class, joining linebacker Jeremiah Alexander of Alabaster’s Thompson High School.
Woodyard and Alexander happen to be the two best players in the state in their class. St. Paul’s offensive lineman Lucas Taylor and Fairhope wide receiver TJ Banks are among the young stars who also have a chance to be at the top of the class.
But the commitment of these players so far in advance of their college enrollment leads to an interesting question. Is it reasonable to think that Woodyard and Alexander and the other members of the Class of 2022 have a chance to play their entire college careers with Saban as their head coach?
In the past, this question has been whispered by opposing recruiters desperately trying to find an argument for why the best players in the country shouldn’t join the Alabama juggernaut.
But with every passing year the question becomes more legitimate and less about unfounded speculation. Let’s take a look at the math.
Saban is 68 years old. He will turn 69 on Halloween, which happens to be the Saturday between road trips to Tennessee and LSU for the Tide.
That means that by the time Woodyard, Alexander and the other members of the Class of 2022 report to Tuscaloosa Saban will be 70.
He would turn 71 during their freshman season, 72 during their sophomore season, 73 during their junior season and 74 during their senior season. Any of those players who redshirted and played a full five seasons would be playing for a 75-year-old head coach.
It’s true that 75 is the new 60. But did you know that Pat Dye coached his last game at Auburn at age 53? I don’t remember thinking he was a young head coach or at an age when retirement seemed noteworthy.
Within the next six months Saban will reach the age at which Paul “Bear” Bryant retired from Alabama and passed away.
Now, nobody thinks Saban is the next Dye (who was forced out at Auburn amid allegations of scandal) or Bryant (who was more worn out physically than most men his age).
Saban has shown no signs of slowing down. He still coaches defensive backs on a daily basis and he clearly is not being outworked on the recruiting trail.
He won a national championship in 2017 and an SEC title in 2018. His streak of double-digit winning seasons has reached 12 with no signs of slowing down.
But while Saban’s record is beyond impressive, his winning percentage still trails Father Time, who remains undefeated.
Here’s how Saban’s success at this stage of life stacks up against some of the greatest coaches in history.
Only three coaches at the Power 5 level have won more than 20 games after turning 68: Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno and Bill Snyder. LaVell Edwards doesn’t technically make the list because BYU was an independent school, but there’s no question he was winning at the highest level.
Each of those legendary coaches left on very down notes. Snyder went 5-7 in his last season at Kansas State, Edwards was 6-6 in his last campaign at BYU, and Bowden was 7-6 before reluctantly handing over the Florida State program to Jimbo Fisher. Paterno was off to an 8-1 start in his final season at Penn State before being fired amid a widespread scandal. Interestingly, his last loss came against Alabama.
So, can Saban buck this trend? To watch him work, it certainly would seem so.
Alabama is still going to be more talented than every team it faces in 2020. And there’s certainly no indication that the Tide is going to be outcoached in any of those games.
Will that change by the time the Class of 2022 reaches its potential? Or might Saban decide that he’s ready to turn the program over to someone else?
There’s no way to know for sure. The best thing for Tide fans to do is simply enjoy the current dynasty.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays on the new Sports Talk 99.5 from 7-10 a.m.
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