Nick Saban Can’t Tell The Players Without A Roster After Spring Game

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Nick Saban one day could forget more national championships than most coaches have won.

He has won a college football record seven national championships, starting with one at LSU in the 2003 season at age 52. He has won six since coming to Alabama before the 2007 season. There was another one in his 50s in 2009 and five in his 60s in 2011, ’12, ’15, ’17 and ’20. He also lost the national championship game twice in his 60s in the 2016 and ’18 and once at 70 in the 2021 season, so he could have double figures.

Saban, who will be 72 on Halloween, has never gone more than three seasons at Alabama without a national championship. So, he has to win it this season to keep that going.

Alabama Coach’s Memory Usually As Sharp As His Temper

I have covered Saban’s teams since he became LSU’s coach before the 2000 season, and he is one of the smartest people one could ever meet. He has an uncanny memory for details of games he coached decades ago. But Saban did something Saturday after Alabama’s spring game that I have never seen him do previously.

He referred to two of his players by their number, not their name. Coaches often do this when they’re talking about opponents, because they’ve just watched film in preparation for a game and they were focused on the numbers. But they usually do not do this with their own players.

When asked about his wide receiver position after the spring game, Saban listed three veterans as having had good springs – senior Jermaine Burton, whom most everyone remembers, junior Ja’Corey Brooks and sophomore Isaiah Bond. Then he continued.

It Was A Numbers Game For Nick Saban On Saturday

“I think No. 11, who really made some catches at the end of the game today, has a chance to be a really good contributor,” Saban said.

He was talking about Malik Benson, who did just arrive at Alabama. He is an early enrollee for the 2023 class from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. Benson caught five passes for 70 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown from quarterback Jalen Milroe with 20 seconds left.

“No. 24 is getting better all the time,” Saban continued. “Made a really nice touchdown catch today.”

That would be sophomore Emmanuel Henderson, who played in 13 games for Alabama last season but caught just one pass for 14 yards. Henderson did catch a 36-yard touchdown from Milroe Saturday and finished with four for 32 yards.

The text of the news conference on various websites did not have Saban saying the player’s numbers. Instead, it had the players’ names in parenthesis.

Nick Saban Is Still The GOAT

But before we start trying to say Saban is losing his memory, calm down. Young kids, teenagers and people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s can have little mental lapses like the above and get away with it because they’re younger, and it just happens. But the second someone in their 60s or 70s or beyond does the same thing, it didn’t just happen. They’re losing it. Now, if they do it several times over a day or two, that’s different. Might be time to take the car keys away, too.

Remember – if you can – that Saban called a player by the wrong name when he was just 54 as the coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2005. An assistant coach was captured on video correcting Saban, who was in his first season with the Dolphins.

Point is, there are a lot of players on football rosters. And Saban usually spews out names more than anyone. I know head coaches who tend to know not as much about players on the other side of the ball and often mispronounce names. Saban for the most part knows every detail of his team backwards and forwards and on either side of the ball.

National Championship Number Eight Not A Reach

There are many more players on college football rosters than in the NFL, and there is more turnover in college football now because of the NCAA Transfer Portal than in the history of any sport known to man. When you consider the number of players in Saban’s or any college football coaches’ head who are not on their teams yet in addition to those who are, it’s unbelievable. Players they are recruiting out of high school and junior college and players from other teams who have been entering the portal are on coaches’ minds much more now.

It would be a reach to say Saban will coach through or past his current contract, which ends after the 2029 season when he will be 78. I believe he’s still got it. His only two losses last year were by a combined four points, and both happened on the last play of the game. He’ll be back. And it is a good bet that there is at least one more national championship in his future.

Maybe, he’s not as good as he once was, but he can still be as good one or two more times as he ever was. And I doubt Saban has ever forgot a name or got anything wrong while recruiting. No one can remember how many No. 1 signing classes he has collected. It’s 14 and counting.

At the same time, it is a good thing Alabama’s football team started putting names on the back of their players’ jerseys in 1981. I would keep that.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau joined OutKick as an SEC columnist in September of 2021 after covering LSU and the Saints for 17 years at USA TODAY Louisiana. He has been a national columnist/feature writer since the summer of 2022, covering college football, basketball and baseball with some NFL, NBA, MLB, TV and Movies and general assignment, including hot dog taste tests.

A New Orleans native and Mizzou graduate, he has consistently won Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) awards since covering Alabama and Auburn at the Mobile Press-Register (1993-98) and LSU and the Saints at the Baton Rouge Advocate (1998-2004). In 2021, Guilbeau won an FWAA 1st for a game feature, placed in APSE Beat Writing, Breaking News and Explanatory, and won Beat Writer of the Year from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA). He won an FWAA columnist 1st in 2017 and was FWAA's top overall winner in 2016 with 1st in game story, 2nd in columns, and features honorable mention.

Guilbeau completed a book in 2022 about LSU's five-time national champion coach - "Everything Matters In Baseball: The Skip Bertman Story" - that is available at www.acadianhouse.com, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble outlets. He lives in Baton Rouge with his wife, the former Michelle Millhollon of Thibodaux who previously covered politics for the Baton Rouge Advocate and is a communications director.

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