Recruiting For Retirement: If Nick Saban Leaves Alabama By Age 75, He Just Signed One Of His Best Classes For Last

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This could be the last one.

If Alabama coach Nick Saban, who turns 72 on Oct. 31, retires at 75 following the 2026 season, members of the class he signed Wednesday will be fourth-year seniors and juniors that year. Will they be playing for their coach’s eighth, ninth or 10th national championship?

He has seven now – six at Alabama from 2009-20 and one at LSU in the 2003 season.

It is looking like a great way to go out so far, as Saban just signed the No. 1 class in the nation with a star-studded 27, including a national high six five-star prospects. No other program has more than four with the second and far less significant signing day set for February 1.

“Obviously today was signing day and we’re obviously very pleased with the class we were able to attract. Got a good bunch of players,” Saban said with typical wild cheer.

Breaking Down Nick Saban's Recent Retirement Comments
Alabama coach Nick Saban and his team take the field to play Georgia in the College Football Playoff title game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis last January 10. Georgia won, 33-18. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

And the memory cycle begins again.

“One of the things that always strikes me, and this is one thing that you couldn’t do during COVID,” he said. “So I guess one day that class will come up to graduate, and every time I take pictures with the guys that graduate, when they walk up to me and I shake hands with them and congratulate them, the first thing that comes to my mind is their home visit. When I was in their home, whether we had fried chicken or whatever the situation was. That’s the first thing I remember.”

Could this be the last class he welcomes and bids adieu as a class?

Nick Saban Has No Timetable, But Time Adding Up

He has said he doesn’t look at it that way. But he can do the math.

ANOTHER SABAN COACHED INTO HIS 80s

“I just kind of keep on keeping on and don’t have a timetable for anything,” Saban said shortly after turning 70 in 2021. “The only thing that I’ve ever said is that if I felt like I was riding the program down, or I wasn’t able to make a positive contribution to the program, then that would probably be the time to let somebody else carry the torch.”

Saban did lose two games this season so far. He has done that in a regular season only twice since 2010.

Alabama will not win a national championship this season for the second straight year. That happened in 2018 and ’19 before he won it all in the 2020 season. And it happened in 2013 and ’14 before he won it all in 2015. So, he’s due in the 2023 season.

And if that happens, it will largely be because of those he signed Wednesday along with his signees from the 2022 class that finished No. 2 to Texas A&M and his No. 1 class in 2021.

Alabama’s next national championship quarterback may have signed Wednesday, unless the NCAA Greener Grass Portal reaps a benefit. It could be either Eli Holstein (6-foot-4, 222 pounds), the No. 9 QB in the nation by 247 Sports rankings from Zachary, Louisiana, or No. 11 quarterback Dylan Lonergan (6-2, 215) from Brookwood High in Snellville, Georgia. Saban wanted Arch Manning, but he went to Texas. Both are only four-star prospects.

“I think they have really good potential,” Saban said. “I think with this day and age, when you know basically guys can leave your team whenever they want, you have enough guys at each position and they want to be the kind of guys that want to develop at that position. So I think both of these guys are very much committed to that. They’re the kind of guys that we want, and I think they fit the profile of what we need at the position.”

The heir apparent, though, is the multi talented Jalen Milroe, who will be a sophomore next season.

Can Nick Saban Replace Bryce Young, Will Anderson Jr.?

There doesn’t appear to be a Bryce Young, who was a five star and the No. 1 quarterback in the nation in 2020, in the mix yet. But Saban can play the portal, even though he hates most of what comes with it. That and the seediness and corruption of NIL will surely stop him from coaching until he’s 80 more than anything else.

Edge rusher/outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr. will be missed, too, but on paper, it looks like he has been replaced. Saban signed the No. 1 edge rusher/OLB in the nation in Kean Keeley of Berkeley Prep in Tampa. He is the No. 10 overall prospect and one of Alabama’s six five-star prospects. He also got the nation’s No. 3 edge rusher/OLB in five-star Qua Russaw of Carver High in Montgomery, Alabama.

The other four five-star prospects are No. 1 safety Caleb Downs of Mill Creek High in Hoschton, Georgia, No. 2 offensive tackle Kadyn Proctor (6-7, 330) of Southeastern Polk High in Des Moines, Iowa, No. 2 defensive tackle James Smith of Carver High in Montgomery, Alabama, and No. 3 tailback Justice Haynes of Buford High in Buford, Georgia.

Saban has complained in the past that reaching the national championship game takes away from his recruiting schedule. Just think about that for a minute. You recruit to win national titles, but playing in national title games hurts recruiting – in Saban’s mind.

“That damn game cost me a week of recruiting,” Saban said in a GQ article in 2013 in reference to his 21-0 win over LSU in the national championship game on January 9, 2012. At the time, THE signing day was in February – less than a month away. His 2012 class still finished No. 1.

Nick Saban Had Luxury Of More Time For This Class

While preparing for the national championship game on January 8, 2013, when he beat Notre Dame, 42-14, he told ESPN, “We’re behind in recruiting.” His 2013 class still finished No. 1.

After winning the national title in the 2009 season, though, his next class did dip to No. 4. And after winning the national crown in the 2017 season, his 2018 class was a lowly fifth.

Saban had time for this class. He didn’t even make the SEC Championship Game. So his last game was on Nov. 26. Must be nice.

“There’s nothing about the recruiting process that I don’t really enjoy,” he said Wednesday. “I enjoy it all.”

And he put together his highest rated Alabama class ever, according to 247 Sports’ ranking process. And this was only his 14th No. 1 class by one service or another, including three at LSU.

Of Alabama’s 27 signees, only one is not a four- or five-star prospect. And that’s a kicker – three-star Conor Talty of St. Rita High in Chicago, and kickers tend to be too strange in general to be highly ranked.

Is there another title or two left in Saban? From the looks of Wednesday, yes.

Oregon coach Dan Lanning talks to quarterback Bo Nix during a game at Colorado this season. Lanning put together the No. 7 recruiting class in the nation so far. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

-Other impressive recruiting work was done by Oregon coach Dan Lanning, who signed the No. 7 class. He was able to get No. 10 quarterback Austin Novosad of – get this – Dripping Springs, Texas, to leak over to him from Baylor – just 123 miles away.

And Lanning beat USC and Ohio State for No. 5 edge rusher/OLB Matayo Uiagelelei of Bellflower, California. And he beat LSU for No. 12 cornerback Daylen Austin from Long Beach, California. He also flipped No. 16 running back Jayden Limar from Notre Dame.

New Auburn coach Hugh Freeze, who was just hired in late November, signed the No. 19 class by 247 Sports. Auburn was ranked in the 40s by various recruiting services as Freeze took over.

-The rich got richer at Georgia, which finished No. 2 to Alabama.

-Texas finished No. 3, largely because of Arch Manning – the No. 1 overall prospect in the country. But coach Steve Sarkisian landed a major addition on Wednesday as well by beating Oklahoma for No. 16 edge rusher Tausili Akana from Skyridge High in Lehi, Utah.

-What a difference a year makes for Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher. His 2022 class finished No. 1. His 2023 class at the moment is No. 14.

Mississippi State is a respectable No. 24 despite coach Mike Leach passing away last week. And Ole Miss is a putrid No. 36.

Brian Kelly And Billy Napier Recruiting Well

-New SEC hires Brian Kelly at LSU and Billy Napier at Florida each significantly improved on the rankings of their school’s classes a year ago, mostly formed by the previous coach. Kelly finished No. 6 after a No. 12 in 2022 and just learned Thursday that star quarterback Jayden Daniels will be returning to LSU next season and skipping the NFL Draft. Napier was No. 12 after a No. 18.

But there is still another signing day to go, not to mention the hourly attention the NCAA Transfer Portal requires along with the corruption of NIL.

“There’s a lot to manage,” Kelly said. “I can’t do it by myself. I’ve got a great personnel staff, a great recruiting staff. It allows me to stay at 35,000 feet in a sense so I can see the whole thing. I have such a great support staff that gives me the information I need to make the decisions that need to be made. Decisions relative to whether we’re going into the portal, what we’re doing relative to recruiting or roster management, all those things.”

And some said Kelly would not be able to recruit well at LSU, coming from Notre Dame. Truth is, it is much easier to recruit at LSU than at Notre Dame and most places because LSU is surrounded by talent from Houston and Dallas to New Orleans and into the Florida panhandle.

“I love it,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot of pieces to this and it’s moving quickly. But I embrace it.”

Kelly plans to sign possibly as many as 35 by Feb. 1. He is at 25 now.

“I remember there were years when I was at 18,” Kelly said. “Those days are over.”

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

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