TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – A loss in Tuscaloosa is a rare thing.

Under Nick Saban, Alabama fans have experienced just nine losses inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. Three came in 2007 – Saban’s first year with the Crimson Tide. The rest are spread across many years, each a legendary moment for the teams and players who accomplished it.

Those loses are mourned in and around the university, each feeling like the end of the world to Alabama fans – many of whom hadn’t experienced the barren years in-between infamous coaches at Bryant-Denny. But always, things returned to the championship norm in Tuscaloosa. The sun rose, Saban’s 24-hour rule was followed and the focus was retrained to the pinnacle.

Wednesday, Tuscaloosa took perhaps the most heartbreaking loss of all when Saban announced his retirement after 17 seasons at The University of Alabama – one final twist in what will be remembered as the wildest season of his coaching career.

In a season that included the worst home loss in his career, a scare on the road to a team that finished a game above .500, yet a number of comeback victories, an SEC title over a reigning two-time national champion and a trip to the Rose Bowl, the greatest coach of all time had one final trick up his sleeve.

Saban worked up until the final minutes of his time at the university, even interviewing potential assistants just an hour before informing his team – in a 4 p.m. meeting – that he was walking away.

Despite discussion that the coach had become frustrated with the changing landscape of college football – most notably NIL – he emphasized to ESPN’s Chris Lowe that it was not the reason for the change.

“Don’t make it about that. It’s not about that. If you choose to coach, you don’t need to be complaining about all that stuff,” Saban told ESPN.

If one were to judge based solely off of the reactions in Tuscaloosa following the announcement, they’d likely believe that Tuscaloosa’s icon had died.

Oatmeal Creme Pies were laid at the feet of his statue on the Walk of Champions, along with the red and white shakers that fill the air in Bryant-Denny on Saturdays. Candles were lit and crowds gathered late into the night singing Dixieland Delight.

Nick Saban is still very much alive, and it likely won’t be long until he graces national television again. It might be as an analyst or personality, or it might be alongside Deion Sanders in another commercial. According to an interview with Rece Davis, Saban might even be getting an office above Bryant-Denny itself.

Those reactions are understandable.

Outside of football, Saban means more to the university than he himself might ever come to understand. Alabama’s enrollment went from mostly in-state prior to his arrival to dominated by out-of-state students. The reported $120 million that he earned over his career doesn’t come close to matching the value that he brought to the school – much like Tiger Woods’ contributions to the game of golf.

On the field, a dominant figure would be an understatement. He revitalized a program whose glory had long since passed and turned Alabama back into the shining example of collegiate excellence. Saban reached the playoff in eight of his ten seasons during that era, winning three championships during that time and having added three more during the BCS era.

It does however feel like an era of college football is gone, and it’s only fitting that the coach most associated with the game would go with it.


Follow Nicholas Pursley on X @nicholaspursley.