Nick Saban via Alabama Crimson Tide on AL.com YouTube, screenshot

Nick Saban shocked the college football world when he announced his retirement in January. At 72 years old, it wasn’t entirely surprising that he would want to hang up his clipboard after a legendary career, including seven national championships at Alabama. But the fact that his retirement seemed to have come out of nowhere left a lot of people baffled and speculating about the reasons. The fact that Saban didn’t have a lot to say in his announcement as to why he was retiring likely fueled that speculation.

Longtime friend, former colleague, and current Senator Tommy Tuberville suggested that the NIL landscape in college athletics spurred on his retirement, predicting that many more coaches would follow in Saban’s footsteps if NIL did not become better governed.

Now, in a recent interview with ESPN, Saban has opened up a little about why he left the game and it appears that Tuberville was not entirely wrong.

Nick Saban faces the media via Wikimedia Commons

Saban Upset With Team’s Behavior After Rose Bowl Loss

This morning, ESPN.com published a story about Alabama’s transition from Saban to new head coach Kalen DeBoer. In the article, Saban cited several reasons for his retirement, including his age and not being able to guarantee assistant coaches and the Alabama administration that he would be there for multiple years.

But it was what he said about the players today that was the most revealing factor.

But Alabama’s 27-20 overtime loss to Michigan in the CFP semifinal at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 was a hard one for Saban to digest. Not only was Saban upset about the way his team played, he was especially disheartened about some of the things that happened afterward — in the Rose Bowl locker room and back on campus, when he met with some of the players.

“I want to be clear that wasn’t the reason, but some of those events certainly contributed,” Saban said of his decision to retire. “I was really disappointed in the way that the players acted after the game. You gotta win with class. You gotta lose with class. We had our opportunities to win the game and we didn’t do it, and then showing your ass and being frustrated and throwing helmets and doing that stuff … that’s not who we are and what we’ve promoted in our program.”

Michigan Stops Alabama On 4th Down In Overtime Of The National Semifinal
Michigan Stops Alabama On 4th Down In Overtime Of The National Semifinal (Credit: YouTube – ESPN College Football)Credit: YouTube – ESPN College Football

To Saban’s mind, this game was not an isolated incident, however.

Money Concerns Became Paramount For Alabama Players

Saban went on to say that he thought that Alabama would have had a great team for the next season, but in talking with the players, their priorities disappointed him.

“I thought we could have a hell of a team next year, and then maybe 70 or 80 percent of the players you talk to, all they want to know is two things: What assurances do I have that I’m going to play because they’re thinking about transferring, and how much are you going to pay me?” Saban recounted. “Our program here was always built on how much value can we create for your future and your personal development, academic success in graduating and developing an NFL career on the field.

Nick Saban via Wikimedia Commons

“So I’m saying to myself, ‘Maybe this doesn’t work anymore, that the goals and aspirations are just different and that it’s all about how much money can I make as a college player?’ I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying that’s never been what we were all about, and it’s not why we had success through the years.”

When statements like this come from a coach as respected — even revered — as Saban, it’s clear that college football has a big problem.

Saban Describes Retiring As Surreal

Saban spoke more about how he came to his decision, including talking to his wife Terry, of course. He also talked with other retired coaches such as Bill Parcells and Gene Stallings. Understandably, even he wasn’t 100 percent sure he would go through with it, right up to the very last minute.

“I’m sitting there looking at the clock, talking to Ms. Terry, and you know you’ve got a team meeting coming up. I guess I still wasn’t 100 percent sure,” Saban said. “I thought it was the right time for us. I didn’t like how it would impact the program, the players, the coaches, the people in the organization, the university. That part of it was really hard. But it was inevitable that it was going to happen at some point in time, and I didn’t want to ride the program down. It was just the right time.”

It is not a surprise that Saban had these feelings. And it can’t truly be a surprise to very many people that Saban cited the mindset of players today as one of the reasons that he felt it was the right time to leave the game he loved so much.

Players being able to earn money for their name, image, and likeness (NIL) is the right thing to do. Not very many people question that in principle. But college football — and college athletics in general — need to address the “Wild Wild West” of the current NIL landscape. Otherwise, as Tuberville predicted, it will also not be a surprise if many other coaches decide that “it’s just the right time” for them to leave the game as well.

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