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Nick Saban, one of the winningest coaches in college football history, is retiring

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Alabama's Nick Saban, one of the winningest coaches in college football history, is retiring. The news came in a statement from Saban himself, who called Tuscaloosa a very special place. It's now a place that'll have to find a successor to a coach that has won a record seven national championships, six while leading the Crimson Tide. Here with us to talk about it is news director of Alabama Public Radio Pat Duggins. Pat, I was having dinner last night with people who aren't necessarily big sports fans, but even they knew how big of a story this was. How did the story break? How did the word break?

PAT DUGGINS, BYLINE: Well, A, from what we're hearing, Saban told the players just yesterday of his decision. The team was just coming off a bruising defeat by the Michigan Wolverines, which cost the Tide its chance at a seventh title. Also yesterday was when the student body was just starting classes for the spring term. So last night, 6:42 p.m. Central Time, the university's football program announced that Saban was leaving, and within 10 minutes of that, an email went out from UA President Stuart Bell. So it is a pretty big deal here.

MARTÍNEZ: 6:42 seared into history. Saban said in his statement that he cares more about his overall legacy than the number of wins or losses. But, I mean, Pat, you're down there in Alabama. You know that everyone is used to winning championships. So how is life going to change maybe for a Crimson Tide football fan?

DUGGINS: Well, it depends on the age bracket of the fan you're talking to. Young people saw Nick Saban win a national title about once every three years. That third year was supposed to be this year when the Tide lost to Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Now, that had people like me who report on the Tide going, whoa, because it was a break in that pattern. Now, if you talk to older fans, they remember the 10-year or so gap between titles after Bear Bryant left and when Gene Stallings won in 1992, and then the over 10-year gap between Stallings and Saban. So when the older fans talk to the younger fans, the older fans kind of sound like Marley's ghost in "A Christmas Carol."

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

DUGGINS: If you remember him warning Ebenezer Scrooge...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

DUGGINS: ...To change his ways. So they're kind of like, remember the bad times. Beware, beware, rattle chains, rattle chains, stuff like that.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, who knows when they might come back to an era that Saban established there. So what's your strongest memory? What's your biggest, fondest memory of the Saban era in Alabama?

DUGGINS: Well, I asked students about that. Now, a lot of them said it was the onside kick in 2015...

MARTÍNEZ: Oh, yeah, yeah.

DUGGINS: ...That helped Alabama beat Clemson for the national title. Now, for the non-football folks out there, an onside kick is a little blooper kick.

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

DUGGINS: And Alabama was able to successfully take the ball back, and that completely changed the game. Now, personally, for me, it was the second championship in 2012. Tuscaloosa was just coming off the 2011 tornado outbreak that killed 54 people and ravaged the town. Tuscaloosa needed a boost and that national title did it.

MARTÍNEZ: Listen to you, sifting through all the national championships to get your memories of Nick Saban.

DUGGINS: (Laughter).

MARTÍNEZ: Bear Bryant won six national championships with Alabama, Saban matched him. Who could Alabama possibly find that would, No. 1, understand the culture and then understand and withstand the pressure of all the expectations to replace him?

DUGGINS: Well, unscientifically, the students that I've spoken to, they don't think that Saban would have announced his departure without having at least somebody in mind. Now, again, unscientifically, one name that seems to be keep coming up is former Crimson Tide star player DeMeco Ryans. Now, he's the head coach with the Houston Texans in the NFL. A lot of people are talking about him. Is he interested, will the Tide try to get him, could he - could they get him if they wanted? We just don't know at this point.

MARTÍNEZ: Quickly, Pat, speaking of the NFL, since you brought it up, could Nick Saban be angling for an NFL job? There are plenty of openings.

DUGGINS: Well, anything's possible. But, I mean, here at Alabama, Nick Saban was literally a demigod. There's already talk about renaming the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saban Field. So the notion that he's going to go from being somebody who had that much clout to a coach who basically tries to tell millionaires what to do on the playing field in the NFL - anything's possible. I'd be surprised, but you never know.

MARTÍNEZ: News director Pat Duggins of Alabama Public Radio. Pat, thanks.

DUGGINS: Thank you, A. Talk to you soon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Pat Duggins
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