Nick Saban will turn 70 on Halloween. By that point, Alabama is expected to be 8-0 and well on its way to another SEC championship.
Saban will have a chance for a rare birthday weekend off this year, since the Tide’s bye week falls on Oct. 30. Maybe it will give him a chance to experience the joys of how most every other 70-year-old spends a fall Saturday. But don’t count on him cutting the grass, taking a nap or washing his boat. Saban will undoubtedly be preparing to lead the Tide into Bryant–Denny Stadium the following weekend for another beatdown of LSU.
There are absolutely no signs of Saban slowing down, despite the mind-blowing fact he is now older than Paul “Bear” Bryant was when he retired and died.
In fact, the program Saban has built is in better shape today than at any point during the dynasty he’s built. Recruiting has always been A+ under Saban, but these days it’s looking more like Saban is almost drafting the best players instead of recruiting them away from other programs. Winning championships and a clear path to the NFL now sell the program better than any coach’s pitch ever could. The greatest pitch in history continues to be this: Every player who has signed with Alabama and stayed all four years since Saban arrived has won at least one national championship. That streak will be alive for at least three more years after claiming another title in January.
Saban also appears to be in better spirits and physical shape than ever.
Still, 70 is 70. At some point, we all have to think about an exit strategy. That day could still be 10 years away, by which point Saban may have won six more national championships. But retirement has to come at some point. Right?
Between now and that inevitable day, people will speculate about who will be the next head coach at Alabama. It’s pure guesswork, especially since we don’t know when that day will come.
The proof we don’t know who Saban’s successor will be can be found in the list of coaches who have at one point been considered among the favorites to take his place in Tuscaloosa. None of these coaches are viable candidates anymore as Saban continues to pick up steam.
But all of these men were leading candidates not that long ago.
Dabo Swinney. The Clemson coach has transitioned from being successful to becoming a legend. Swinney has never said he wouldn’t leave Clemson for his alma mater. In fact, his contract specifically mentions Alabama as the one school he could leave for without having to pay a massive buyout. Still, he’s been at Clemson for 18 years now, 13 as head coach. His kids have always called Clemson home. Alabama doesn’t have anything to offer Swinney that Clemson doesn’t except for the siren call of “Mama Called.” Every year that passes, the appeal of that call weakens.
Kirby Smart. Remember when Smart was going to hang around Tuscaloosa as defensive coordinator until Saban retired and elevated him to the head coaching position? The Georgia coach is back at his alma mater at the only job he would consider better than Alabama. The chance to succeed Saban wouldn’t change his mind about that. The only question for Smart is now whether he will ever beat his former boss.
Jeremy Pruitt. Just because a person knows about ball and is a good assistant is no guarantee he has the qualities to be in a higher-profile position. That should have been clear to Tennessee before the Volunteers hired him and then watched him run the program further into the ditch. Pruitt may be a head coach again, but it won’t be at Alabama.
Steve Sarkisian. This speculation was just getting off the ground when Sarkisian turned two spectacular years as Alabama’s offensive coordinator into the head job at Texas. Sarkisian has already taken some subtle shots at Tuscaloosa since leaving, which further reduces his chances to return.
Today, more than any other time in the last decade, there is no logical successor to Saban. That’s fine with Alabama fans, who aren’t ready to start thinking about life without a legend at the helm of the program.
The best bet is Saban will still be piling up wins and championships five or more years from now. By that point, his logical successor could be somebody we haven’t heard of yet.
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 from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart app.
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