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Nick Saban retires: Former Alabama players, coaching rivals react as legendary Tide coach calls it quits

Alabama coach Nick Saban shocked the college football world Wednesday when he suddenly announced his retirement after 17 seasons with the Crimson Tide. The 72-year-old won seven national titles — one at LSU (2003) and six at Alabama (2009, 2011-12, 2015, 2017, 2020). That is tied with fellow legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant for the most in college football history. 

Saban guided Alabama to eight College Football Playoff appearances during his time at the school — the most of any program in the CFP era. Current college football coaches and his former players at Alabama were quick to weigh in on the end of one of the sport’s most decorated careers. 

Earlier in the day, the Seattle Seahawks announced that Pete Carroll would not return as their coach in 2024 — ending a 14-year run in the Pacific Northwest. Texas coach Steve Sarkisian was the offensive coordinator at USC from 2007-08 under Carroll and the offensive coordinator at Alabama under Saban from 2019-2020 before taking the job at Texas. He paid tribute to both his former bosses in one tweet. 

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin also paid respect to two of his former bosses. Kiffin served as an assistant under Carroll at USC from 2001-06. He later worked with Saban at Alabama as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2014-16. Kiffin is considered one of the candidates in the Tide’s search to replace Saban after spending the last four seasons with the Rebels. 

Colorado coach Deion Sanders weighed in on Saban’s retirement, giving praise to his Aflac commercial co-star. He also insinuated that Saban’s departure may be related to the many changes the college football has seen over the past few years. The sport’s landscape has undergone major shifts with both NIL and the transfer portal, requiring more and more time from coaches. 

Saban finished his coaching career with a 4-2 record against current Auburn coach Hugh Freeze. When Freeze was the head man at Ole Miss, he helped guide the Rebels to consecutive wins over the Crimson Tide in 2014 and 2015. The first and only Iron Bowl meeting between the two coaches was a thrilling come-from-behind 27-24 win for Alabama.

Saban was 5-3 against former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn with all eight games coming in the Iron Bowl. One of the most memorable plays in college football history came during the 2013 rivalry matchup. Tigers defensive back Chris Davis returned a missed field goal kick 109 yards for a walk-off touchdown. The “kick-six” helped Auburn clinch the SEC West and a spot in the BCS title game against Florida State.

Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram ll was one of the first of Saban’s former players to weigh in on his retirement. The former running back was part of one of Saban’s first recruiting classes at Alabama and played a major role on the Crimson Tide’s 2009 national title team. 

Current Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey played for Saban at Alabama from 2014-16. He took a more lighthearted approach to the news. Saban’s departure opens up a 30-day window for any Alabama player to hit the transfer portal.

It wasn’t just Saban’s former players who paid their respects. Tim Tebow’s Florida Gators clashed twice with Saban’s Tide with both the SEC title and a spot in the national championship game on the line. Tebow got the better of Saban’s team in 2008 with a 31-20 victory over Alabama. The next year, the Crimson Tide returned the favor with a 32-13 win. In both cases, the winner of the contest went on to win the national title. 

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